The Millennium Products are absent from a new exhibition of British design, says Nonie Niesewand
TONIGHT, the Prime Minister opens Powerhouse::uk, an exhibition of British design products inside four, silver, inflatable pods on Horseguards Parade. Yet, the Lotus chosen by the Design Council as a Millennium Product will not be pulling up smoothly outside. Although Tony Blair will be announcing 202 of the Millennium choices at tonight's bash, only four of them have been included in the Powerhouse.

The rest would have been Cinderellas anyway, because you'd need a fork- lift truck to get them to the party. In fact, one of them is a fork-lift truck. The Design Council's Millennium Products list includes aircraft ejection seats and bolt-down public benches, or the six-lane covered railway and emergency bridge joining Hong Kong to its new airport, and the Eurostar train. They represent ingenuity - and heavy industry.

Sexy they are not. But that's a description Powerhouse can claim - the gizmos and gadgets drummed up by architects Doug Branson and Nigel Coates with curator Claire Catterell make an entertaining show of products and digital information. The pounds 10m exhibition has been organised by the Department of Trade and Industry to boost exports as well as entertain foreign dignitaries at this week's Asian and European heads of state summit.

The Powerhouse includes a Scalectrix track, whizzing with miniature buses and taxis set against a cityscape made of packaging, to show off the best of graphics in the Communications pod. Suitcases whirl on a carousel packed with fashion and chairs, calculators and computers in the Lifestyle drum. Over at Networking, attitude, especially in the workplace, gets an overhaul to show our competitors how we grew multi-national. Architect Nigel Coates isn't a bit bothered about passing the style trial. "It's cool, isn't it ? It's on the move, agile, showing British people playing the part."

This begs a question: were the Design Council's Millennium choices not cool enough to make the Powerhouse guest list? True, it does include a James Dyson bagless vacuum cleaner; Tom Dixon's Jack, a phosphorescent chair made of the same material as traffic bollards, and the Psion Five electronic organiser - all on the council's list. The fourth item is Blatchford's computerised artificial limb for landmine victims.

The truth is that the Millennium Products so far all seem a bit worthy. Green, yes, with insecticide sprays which reduce drift and water-based paintstrippers. Educational, too. Innovative in the way they cut diesel emissions on trucks. But just what do two pairs of cows' galoshes designed to stop their legs aching and milk production falling say about British design?

Powerhouse::uk opens on Sunday 4 April

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