Essential Architecture-  London

Millennium Dome


Richard Rogers


south east London




High-Tech Modern




Exhibition hall
  One of several grand millennium projects in the UK.
  The Millennium Dome, with the Canary Wharf complex in the background, seen from the River Thames
  The Millennium Dome, seen from the Isle of Dogs.
  Aerial view of the Millennium Dome
The O2, still generally referred to by its former name, the Millennium Dome, is a large dome shaped building on the Greenwich peninsula in south east London, the United Kingdom, at grid reference TQ391801, 51°30'10.14?N, 0°0'11.22?E. The name was officially changed when O2 plc purchased the naming rights from the developers, Anschutz Entertainment Group.

The dome was constructed in order to hold a major exhibition celebrating the beginning of the third millennium. This exhibition opened to the public on January 1, 2000 and ran until December 31, 2000; however the project and exhibition was the subject of considerable political controversy and did not attract the number of visitors anticipated in its planning and costing.

Since the closure of the original exhibition, several possible ways of reusing the building have been proposed and then rejected. The renaming of the dome on May 31, 2005 gave publicity to the Dome's transition into an indoor sporting arena. In this role the plan is to host the 2009 World Gymnastics Championships and the artistic gymnastics and trampolining events of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.[1] The sports area will be complemented by a proposed substantial entertainments complex, the contents of which are still the subject of political decision (and some major controversy).

The Millennium Dome is the largest single-roofed structure in the world. Externally it appears as a large white marquee with 100 m-high yellow support towers, one for each month of the year, or each hour of the clock face, representing the role played by Greenwich Mean Time. In plan view it is circular, 365 m in diameter — one metre for each day of the year — with scalloped edges. It has become one of the United Kingdom's most recognisable landmarks. It can easily be seen on aerial photographs of London. Its exterior is reminiscent of the Dome of Discovery built for the Festival of Britain in 1951. The architect was Richard Rogers.

The building structure was engineered by Buro Happold, and the entire roof structure weighs less than the air contained within the building. Although called a dome it is not strictly one as it is not self-supporting, but is a mast-supported, dome-shaped cable network. [2]

The canopy is made of PTFE coated glass fibre fabric, a durable and weather-resistant plastic, and is 50 m high in the middle. Its symmetry is interrupted by a hole through which a ventilation shaft from the Blackwall Tunnel rises.

Apart from the dome itself, the project included the reclamation of the entire Greenwich peninsula. The land was previously derelict and contaminated by toxic sludge from an earlier gasworks that operated from 1889 to 1985. The clean-up operation was seen by the then Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine as an investment that would add a large area of useful land to the crowded capital. This was billed as part of a larger plan to regenerate a large, sparsely populated area to the east of London and south of the River Thames, an area initially called the East Thames Corridor but latterly marketed as the "Thames Gateway".

The area is served by North Greenwich tube station, which was opened just before the Dome, on the Jubilee Line.

Background to the Dome Project
The Dome project was conceived, originally on a somewhat smaller scale, under John Major's Conservative government, as a Festival of Britain or World's Fair-type showcase to celebrate the third millennium. The incoming Labour government elected in 1997 under Tony Blair, greatly expanded the size, scope and funding of the project. It also significantly increased expectations of what would be delivered. Just before its opening Blair claimed the Dome would be "a triumph of confidence over cynicism, boldness over blandness, excellence over mediocrity". In the words of BBC correspondent Robert Orchard, "the Dome was to be highlighted as a glittering New Labour achievement in the next election manifesto".

Millennium celebrations
During the whole of 2000 the Dome was open to the public, and contained a large number of attractions and exhibits.

The exhibits
A major problem was that, having been given the objective of creating an exhibition now substantially inflated from the original conception, the organisers of the project did not in fact have much of an idea of what to place in it for the public to see. Some saw the result as a disjointed assemblage of thinly-veiled corporate-sponsored promotions, burger stalls, and lacklustre museum-style exhibits that were so weak as to appear almost as parodies.

The interior space was subdivided into 14 zones — Body, Work, Learning, Money, Play, Journey, Self Portrait, Living Island, Talk, Faith, Home Planet, Rest, Mind, and Shared Ground. Some of the Zones were perceived as lacking in content and pandering to political correctness. The Journey Zone, outlining the history and development of transport, was one of the few singled out for praise.

The Tower that ate People arose from the floor during the stage showThe central stage show was accompanied by music composed by Peter Gabriel and an acrobatic cast of 160. The show was performed 999 times over the course of the year. Throughout the year, the specially-commissioned film Blackadder: Back & Forth was shown in a separate cinema on the site. These features escaped a great deal of the criticism that was heaped on the rest of the project, although the lyrics and meaning of the stage show were considered difficult to follow by many, and the Blackadder film was noted for being neither as sharp or funny as the original four series and specials. The music from the stage show was later released on Gabriel's album Ovo (complete with lyrics). There is apparently no video record of the show, though arguably it would be difficult to capture a show of such large scale on video. Had the higher forecasts of attendance proved correct, then the visitors' enjoyment could have been reduced by queueing and congestion.

There was also the McDonald's Our Town Story project in which each Local Education Authority in the UK was invited to perform a show of their devising which characterised their area and its people.

Financial and management problems
The project was largely reported by the press to have been a flop: badly thought-out, badly executed, and leaving the government with the embarrassing question of what to do with it afterwards. During 2000 the organisers repeatedly asked for, and received, more cash from the Lottery body which supported it; the Millennium Commission. Numerous changes at management and Board level, before and during the exhibition, had only limited, if any, results. Press reports suggested that Blair personally placed a high priority on making the Dome a success. But part of the problem was that the financial predictions were based on an unrealistically high forecast of visitor numbers at 12 million. During the 12 months it was open there were approximately 6.5 million visitors — slightly more than the 6 million that attended the Festival of Britain, which only ran from May to September. Unlike the press, visitor feedback was extremely positive. It was the most popular tourist attraction in 2000, second was the London Eye; third was Alton Towers, which had been first in 1999. In 2005 the London Eye was number one and Alton Towers number two.

According to the UK National Audit Office [1], the total cost of the Millennium Dome at the liquidation of the New Millennium Experience Company in 2002 was £789 million, of which £628 million was covered by National Lottery grants and £189 million through sales of tickets etc. A surplus of £25 million over costs meant that the full lottery grant was not required. However, the £603 million of lottery money was still £204 million in excess of the original estimate of £399 million required, due to the shortfall in visitor numbers. [2]

The aftermath
The Millennium Dome is now normally closed. The failure of the project to match the hype became and remains a continuing embarrassment to the Labour government. It is still of interest to the press, the government's difficulties in disposing of the Dome being the subject of much critical comment. The amount spent on maintaining the closed building has also been criticised. Some reports indicated the Dome was costing £1 million per month to maintain during 2001, but the government claimed these were exaggerations.

Following closure of the Dome some Zones were dismantled by the sponsoring organisations, but much of the content went under the auctioneer's hammer. This included a number of artworks specially commissioned from contemporary British artists. A piece by Gavin Turk was sold for far below his then auction price though Turk stated that he did not think the piece had worked. A unique record of the memorabilia and paraphernalia of the MEX is held by a private collector [3] in the U.S.A.

In December 2001 it was announced that Meridian Delta Ltd had been chosen by the government to develop the Dome as a sports and entertainment centre, and to develop housing, shops and offices on 150 acres (0.6 km²) of surrounding land. It is also hoped to relocate some of London's tertiary education establishments to the site. Meridian Delta is backed by the American billionaire Philip Anschutz, who has interests in oil, railways, and telecommunications (the troubled Qwest), as well as a string of sports-related investments.

Winter Wonderland 2003
Despite an ongoing debate about the Dome's future use (see aftermath above), the Dome opened again during December 2003 for the Winter Wonderland 2003 experience. The event culminated in a laser and firework display on New Year's Eve.

Crisis Open Christmas Shelter 2004
Over the 2004 Christmas period part of the main Dome was used as a shelter for the homeless and others in need, organized by the charity Crisis.

The Millenium Dome is being redeveloped by Anschutz Entertainment Group to a design by HOKSVE and Buro Happold and is scheduled to reopen in 2007. As part of the investment programme, naming rights were sold to O2 plc; whilst 'The O2' has become the official name of the project, there are no signs that the press and public have any intention of giving up referring to it simply as 'The Millenium Dome'.

The building will contain an arena with a capacity of up to 23,000 for in the round events- in a 'horseshoe' layout similar to Sheffield Arena. Justin Timberlake will play the first concerts at the arena in July 2007.

The Millenium Dome is believed to be in talks with the Association of Tennis Professionals to host the Tennis Masters Cup from 2009.[4]

The Millenium Dome will host the 2009 World Gymnastics Championships. At the 2012 Summer Olympic Games it will be used for artistic gymnastics and trampolining, for which it will have a spectator capacity of 16,500, and for basketball finals, for which it will have a capacity of 20,000. Earlier rounds of the basketball competition will take place at one of the arenas in the Olympic Park. A 6,000 seat temporary venue called the Greenwich Arena will be built near The Millenium Dome and will stage the badminton and rhythmic gymnastics events.

The investment by Anschutz is partly conditional on the granting of a 'super casino' licence by the British government. Without this licence, Anschutz's investment will be reduced by half, to about £300m. Anschutz may also refuse to subsidise the proposed 2007 'King Tutankhamen' exhibition at the Millenium Dome. As a consequence, the association of the British Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, with Philip Anschutz, head of the entertainment group, has given rise to serious political controversy in Britain with allegations that Prescott may have used undue influence to support Anschutz. [5]

Effects on political careers
The ill-fated Dome "swallowed Peter Mandelson's cabinet career and now it threatens to finish off John Prescott's." (The Guardian, 7 July, 2006). It also did little to enhance Michael Heseltine's reputation, and was an early example of Tony Blair's often excessive optimism.

Chronology of the project
1994 : Millennium Commission established by Prime Minister John Major and handed over to deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine.
January 1996 : Greenwich site selected. Birmingham, Derby and Stratford were also considered.
December 1996 : Government decides to support the project with public money after being unable to raise private capital.
1997 : new Prime Minister Tony Blair decides to continue the project, although his cabinet is not unanimous.
June 20, 1997 : Peter Mandelson MP put in charge of the New Millennium Experience Company.
January 1998 : Creative director Stephen Bayley quits the project
December 23, 1998 : Peter Mandelson resigns from government after a financial scandal.
January 4, 1999 : Lord Falconer of Thoroton replaces Mandelson.
May 1999 : the Jubilee Line Extension opens, putting the Dome on the London Underground. This too is seen as disorderly, opening 14 months late and with station facilities not yet complete (e.g. lifts for wheelchair access)
June 22, 1999 : structure of Dome completed.
December 31, 1999 & January 1, 2000 : opening night is a disaster, as VIP guests are kept waiting outside for hours because of a ticketing problem.
January 1, 2000 : Dome opens to public.
June 24, 2000 : Site of International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA Awards).
July 26, 2000 : Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee publishes adverse report on Dome's management.
September 25, 2000 : Michael Heseltine, the Dome's original sponsor, admits that it was a bad idea.
November 7, 2000 : thieves break in to the diamond exhibit during opening hours but are foiled by waiting police.
November 9, 2000 : National Audit Office publishes report blaming unrealistic attendance targets for the Dome's financial problems.
November 30, 2000 : Miss World 2000 beauty pageant. India's Priyanka Chopra won the crown.
December 31, 2000 : Dome closed to the public, having attracted just over six million visitors. The initial projected figure was twelve million.
December 2001 : Announcement of sale of site to Meridian Delta Ltd, who plan to turn it into a 20,000-seat sports and entertainment venue. Houses and offices will be built on the surrounding land, subject to the consent of the London Borough of Greenwich.
December 31, 2001 : 'Ministry of Sound' New Year's Eve Party
February 18, 2002 : four men jailed for the attempted diamond robbery in 2000.
July 19, 2003 : Respect 2003 Anti-Racism Festival.
August Bank Holiday 2003 : Asian Mela.
December 6, 2003: opening of Winter Wonderland 2003
May 31, 2005, Anschutz Entertainment Group sold the naming rights to the former Millennium Dome to O2, a British mobile phone company. The deal was brokered by The Bonham Group.
2007 : scheduled opening date for refurbished Dome.
July 4, 2007 : Justin Timberlake Concert (opening event?)
November 24, 2007 : Festival of Scouting event to mark its centenary
November 2007. Tutankhamun & The Golden Age of the Pharaohs. The last time King Tut's treasures will be seen outside Egypt.

In popular culture
The Dome was featured in the pre-title sequence of the 1999 James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough. It was also featured in the video game of the same name, made by Electronic Arts. The song Silvertown Blues from Mark Knopfler's album Sailing to Philadelphia deals with the construction of the Dome. It can be seen in the background of the film Green Street, and in the title sequence of the popular soap opera EastEnders.

The dome was also the site for a roadblock on The Amazing Race 7, where the teams had to drive a double-decker bus around the parking lot.

A book about the attempted robbery of the De Beers diamonds from the Dome was published in 2004. Written by crime journalist and author Kris Hollington, Diamond Geezersalso features a history of the Dome

The Dome was featured for a few seconds prominently in the background during a sequence in the 2006 blockbuster The Da Vinci Code.