Is Stephen Bayley as good an ideas man as he thinks he is? We'll find out under the dome

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
So now the Millennium Dome at Greenwich is to be roofed in Teflon, the non-stick saucepan-lining pioneered by Nasa. Unfortunately the dome's creative director, Stephen Bayley, can't be called Mr Teflon. Nearly everything sticks to him.

At the Boilerhouse in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the man who will decide what goes inside the dome staged some of the best design shows in the Eighties. Into that rather dreary space, like an underground car- park, he introduced us to the structural aerodynamics of Issey Miyake fashion, and to the furniture of Memphis that took the post-modern world by storm and made Bauhaus steel and leather look like dentists' chairs. Handing out bouquets and brickbats to the design stars of that consumer generation, he put some pieces on pedestals and others into black bins. When Vuitton found their monogrammed luggage in a bin-liner, they were outraged. When he gave a speech on fashion watches for Tag Hauer he admitted to wearing a Rolex. The last exhibition which he mounted at the Design Museum, owned by the Conran Trust, was for Coca-Cola memorabilia. The day it opened he announced that he thought the British design and architecture press was dire, a remark not guaranteed to get him rave reviews, however earnestly we tried to like the exhibition. More importantly, the sponsor, Coca-Cola, learnt that Bayley found their logo inept. No one could accuse Stephen Bayley of selling out but they could say he was a tad ungrateful. The trouble with Stephen Bayley is that he always bites the hand that feeds him. Writing his last column in GQ he revealed that his mentor and protector Sir Terence Conran accused him once of being "so fucking flip", which Bayley took to be a profound compliment. But flip doesn't mean you can stage a good show in the world's largest covered structure - the height of Nelson's column and the width of two Wembleys. The only thing we know for certain is that the dome's central auditorium will have a Cameron Mackintosh theatrical spectacular.

Around this, Bayley must construct an exhibition that does justice to today's technological wizards, the inventors and film-makers, the musicians and designers who have rebuilt and re-engineered national pride.

Their opinions must be sought and their proposals noted - not least because they already understand how to put on a good show. The Design Council proposes a series of workshops for designers from many disciplines to put forward ideas on three fronts: how to plan Britain's gateways (everyone's first impression of Britain), how to stage international events such as next year's summit, and what they think should be put in the dome. Then they will have to run their shopping list past Stephen Bayley.

Bayley is an ideas man, throwing off sparks of creativity and sound-bites in short order. Now he has the more difficult task of finding ways to display sponsors' products imaginatively without causing them to withdraw support. He gave a mild-mannered example of his new softly-softly approach: if Samsung sponsored a show, obviously (a very Stephen word) he wouldn't use their washing machine running on rinse and spin as an exhibit. His first task was to sift through many ideas while not committing himself. Sensibly, after his self-congratulatory appearance on the Today programme, it looks rather as though his employers at the Millennium Experience have taken him off the interview circuit and issued a picture of him wearing his new designer stubble.

There is one given: whoever organises the contents must work closely with the architects. The days of the glass box sheltering a dour line- up of exhibits has gone. We've moved on since Crystal Palace, and even since Grimshaw's glass box for Expo '92. A truly impressive exhibition these days has to be staged in a light-controlled environment to allow visitors to get information on screen and to be interactive with LCD exhibits. We need more darkness to see the light. Daylight displays in a glass box limit how exhibits and concepts are displayed.

This requires a tight, companionable relationship between the architect, Richard Rogers Partnership, and Bayley. Unfortunately, the architects weren't exactly cheering at the news of his appointment after the original ideas team, the Imagination Gallery, with whom Richard Rogers had planned the interiors, lost their contract to Bayley, who saw his imagination realised instead.

Now the dome is to be covered in long-life, environmentally friendly but expensive Teflon instead of short-term PVC, it will be with us for the next 25 years. It could house the show of the century and showcase all that is best about new-wave Britain. Whether it will turn out to be something we can be proud of rests almost entirely on Stephen Bayley's shoulders, and he had better be as good an ideas man as he thinks he isn