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That's the only title it really needs. Everyone knows which dome you mean.
The Dome was constructed on the end of the Blackwall peninsula, in North Greenwich, on the site of a derelict gasworks. An empty site so near to the old Royal Observatory was always a prime contender for the centre of Britain's Millennium celebrations and few people were surprised when it was chosen ahead of Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre. The year-long exhibition was always planned as a cluster of self-contained pavilions, but its planners had a problem to solve. The riverside site was open to the elements, and the exhibition was due to open in midwinter. It had to be built in a hurry, too, and money was tight. The architects came up with a vision that was uniquely bold, audacious and far-sighted - they decided to cover the entire site. It was a solution both elegantly simple and staggeringly breathtaking. Elegantly simple because the individual pavilions could be built cheaply and at leisure; staggeringly breathtaking because the necessary structure would be, quite simply, the biggest building in the world.
Strictly speaking, the Dome isn't a building at all. It isn't even a dome, really. It's a cable-net structure, a thin membrane of fabric stretched between a network of steel hawsers supported by twelve masts. The design, a unique partnership between architects Richard Rogers and engineers Buro Happold, is a thing of supreme elegance and beauty. The sheer size of the thing is staggering. To visit the Dome is to be overwhelmed by its dimensions, to be inspired by the sheer audacity of its very existence, to share the bold, inspired vision of those who conceived and built it. It's almost impossible to believe that the human mind could have given birth to this thing. To stand inside it, to appreciate its grace and elegance and dimensions, is to be both awestruck and deeply humbled.
The statistics are both impressive and utterly meaningless. The Dome covers a surface area of 80,000 square metres, has a diameter of 365 metres, a circumference of one kilometre, and an internal height of 50 metres. The volume it encloses is quoted as 3,800,000,000 pints; by my reckoning about 2.4 billion litres, or 2.4 million cubic metres. The supporting masts are 100 metres high. The roof fabric is only a millimetre thick yet is so exquisitely tensioned that it could support the weight of a 747 jet airliner. And the whole thing is supremely beautiful, both aesthetically and conceptually.
It is a crying shame that the Dome - and more specifically, the Millennium Experience, its initial contents - had a bad press. Politicians with an axe to grind, newspaper editors and media pundits all seem determined to rubbish it. It seems that the logistical disaster of the opening night - when VIPs, including journalists, politicians and other pundits, were left queuing at Stratford tube station for three hours - had more than a little to do with this. The business plan, too, was flawed - it hinged on attracting twelve million visitors to recoup its costs but in the event it got just over half that figure. Let's remember that even with only 6.5 million visitors it was still Britain's most popular tourist attraction by far during 2000, and deservedly so.
The dome, and the New Millennium experience, did not cost a penny of public money. It was funded by private sponsorship, lottery grants and (of course) admission tickets. The New Millennium Experience closed on December 31st. The Dome will, fortunately, live on but as what we have yet to learn. The Dome, this bold, elegant and audacious vision, a structural wonder and one of London's most priceless assets, must continue as a visitor attraction. This particular fan sincerely hopes that it will grace the city's skyline for a great many years to come.
The Dome's exterior, and Skyscape ("Baby Dome")
Dome Interior (the New Millennium Experience)
|Map showing the Dome from streetmap.co.uk|
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This page last updated 2nd Janury 2005