It is hard not to talk about the Millennium Dome with Tim Pyne. After all, it has been his life for more than two years. He claims a few grey hairs from the experience but, unlike other Dome designers, he has nothing but praise for his clients. He found a vocation - designing four of the zones at the Dome - if only for a few years.
'I was always into 'get it' architecture,' says Pyne. His approach is all about problem-solving. This worked in Liverpool, where Pyne took his BA in architecture, but his year in Cambridge proved less of a success. 'They didn't look at first principles,' says Pyne. Part of his unorthodox year out was spent with Laing, learning - among other things - to order the right amount of concrete. 'I once ordered seven lorries too much,' he remembers. Despite having qualified as an architect Pyne admits that he has never got on with the nuts and bolts of architecture - another year out experience was a long three weeks designing a door schedule at Austin Lord: Smith.
'Get it' architecture is one thing, a 'get it' lifestyle is another. After finishing his Part 3 at Liverpool, Pyne succumbed to the joys of sailing and spent some time in Antigua crewing charter yachts and racing in occasional regattas. But at the age of 30 he suddenly realised that he hadn't yet had a 'proper job'. Pyne, who comes from a family of doctors, explains his return as his 'middle class work ethic'.
Pyne's first design job was his largest project until the Dome nearly eight years later. A friend was working for Blenheim Exhibitions and putting on the London Gift Fair in Earls Court 1. Pyne offered to do a design for it and in three months, on an old electronic typewriter, he put together and realised a scheme to give some character to the huge hangar. After this big beginning Pyne returned to more mundane exhibition design, hawking his ideas around standholders at Birmingham's nec.
Eventually two weeks of exhibition work at Jasper Jacobs Associates led to a permanent job, submitting lottery bids for museums, and designing exhibitions. It was when he saw the growing strength of the exhibitions practice there that Pyne decided to establish his own partnership, first as vam:p for a year and then as work. The designs for the first '100% Design' show - from the entrance space to the signage - came from Pyne, and the Concept House for the 'Ideal Home' show was also his idea.
Part architecture, part exhibition, the Dome was the ideal job for Pyne. After successfully bidding for Living Island Pyne decided that New Millennium Experience Company (nmec) was going to be an important client: 'We decided to slowly dump all our other clients,' he says. 'I didn't think you could do the Dome and anything else at the same time.' At that point Pyne had no idea how much work the nmec would give work, but he decided that it was worth staking the company on the Dome.
Pyne believes that work's bid for Living Island (see page 46) won because it was fun: 'The other pitches were all doom.' His introduction to the world of Las Vegas from Paul Davies, lecturer at South Bank University (AJ 23.4.98) added an extra measure of glitz to the already-tacky (and infinitely recognisable) British seaside resort pastiche. It is a high- energy design and one so densely populated with wacky ideas that his rescue jobs on the zones Work and Learn and Shared Ground seem weak in comparison.
Pyne is pleased to have avoided much of the commercialism of the Dome, surprising for someone who designed a blow-up beer can as a response to an undergraduate brief for a catering venue. The nmec acted as a buffer between the sponsors and work. Pyne managed to get away with some jazzed- up computer terminals with access to the sponsor's website in Work and Learn. On Living Island there was no need for an intermediary as there was no sponsor. British Nuclear Fuel and other energy companies expressed an interest in sponsoring the zone but the environmentalists wouldn't hear of it.
Having moved to a little house in Greenwich to be near the Dome, Pyne misses his white-box houseboat and the sociability of life on a Chelsea pontoon. From meeting neighbours for a beer to professional collaborations, communication is important to Pyne. He believes it is the key to successful projects: 'If you can't explain it down the phone, it won't work'. At work the eight full-time members of staff sit round a long table, allowing them all to hear each others' conversations. Pyne sees this as an aid to sociability as well as a healthy method of control. 'If anyone says, 'I assume it's been done,' we can all jump on them.'
A successful relationship with the nmec meant 'being there' for it. Pyne's escape to Florida for Millennium Eve was cut short by the nmec's insistence on Pyne himself showing Tony Blair around his zones. He flew back on 31 December. But it was worth it he says; in the end the value of work's combined projects was around £27 million.
Pyne's energies are now directed towards the next few months - which he has declared a holiday for all at work - and heading back off to Antigua for some sailing. 'I have a lot of time for binge working,' he says, and that entails binge pleasure as well. He is looking forward to being able to choose his jobs and maybe do some teaching. 'I've done my proper job now,' says Pyne. 'I'm not driven by the need to achieve.'