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Bright ideas to spark success where accountancy failed

What do you do with a failed faith centre, a redundant pop museum, or an empty Millennium Dome? The problem of the Lottery white elephant is a peculiarly contemporary phenomenon, which calls for an imaginative response.We don't need solutions which are rooted in accountancy. At this stage we simply need ideas. It is easy to blame failed projects on bad business plans and insufficient research, but at the ideas stage a hunch is an effective substitute for reams of data. In any case, one of the most painful lessons of the last year is that 'scientific' projections - especially those relating to visitor numbers - are invariably tempered with a good dose of optimism.

The Eden Project, the subject of this week's building study (pages 30-37), has been pulling in the punters even before its official opening - and is, first and foremost, the result of a hunch. Crucially, the hunch was based on an idea about what people want to see: one suspects that the troubled National Millennium Faith Experience in Bradford was given funding on the strength of the people putting in the application as opposed to the people who were likely to want to visit.

Eden is unembarrassed about its status as a tourist attraction, and in Cornwall, with its declining industries, this is a serious thing to be. Mutterings about 'Disneyfying Britain' with visitor attractions are based on a misplaced snobbery. Many historic buildings which are now seen as 'serious architecture'started life as selfindulgent monuments to leisure. And Lottery projects often flounder when they feel obliged to be 'educational' - as opposed to just interesting or fun. Can you imagine a child begging its parents for a trip to World of Glass, or a teenager choosing to visit a pop museum rather than staying in with a CD? Eden, on the other hand, is a good old-fashioned spectacle, in an area which is already a magnet for tourists. However commendable its environmental and educational agenda, its trump card is that it functions as a middle class Center Parcs.What is needed are site-specific, market-focused uses for all those attractions which have not worked so well. Suggestions on a postcard please.

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