Millennium Dome

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Architecture

Millennium Dome

Type Exhibition space
Architectural Style Dome
Structural System Steel & tensioned fabric
Location Drawdock Road / Millennium Way
Greenwich Peninsula
London, SE10 0BB
Completed 1999
Design Team
Architect Richard Rogers
Structural engineer Buro Happold
Services engineer Buro Happold
Awards and Prizes Royal Academy of Engineering
MacRobert Award

The Millennium Dome, often referred to simply as The Dome, is the original name of a large dome-shaped building, originally used to house the Millennium Experience, a major exhibition celebrating the beginning of the third millennium. Located on the Greenwich Peninsula in south-east London, England, the exhibition opened to the public on January 1, 2000 and ran until December 31, 2000. The project and exhibition was the subject of considerable political controversy as it failed to attract the number of visitors anticipated, leading to recurring financial problems.

While all of the original exhibition and associated complex has since been demolished, the canopy or shell of the dome still exists, and it is now a key exterior feature of the The O2 entertainment district.

The dome is served by North Greenwich tube station on the Jubilee Line, as well as by Thames Clipper fast catamaran to and from central London. A bus station is integrated into the tube station, providing bus services to south and east London.


The dome, seen from the Isle of Dogs.
The dome, seen from the Isle of Dogs.

The dome structure is the largest domed 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 and the contractor was Sir Robert McAlpine. The building structure was engineered by Buro Happold, and the entire roof structure weighs less than the air contained within the building. Although referred to as a dome it is not strictly one as it is not self-supporting, but is a mast-supported, dome-shaped cable network.

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".

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".

However before its opening, The Dome was excoriated in Iain Sinclair's diatribe, Sorry Meniscus - Excursions to the Millennium Dome (Profile Books: London 1999, ISBN 1861971796), which accurately forecast the hype, the political posturing and the eventual disillusion. The post-exhibition plan had been to convert The Dome into a football stadium which would last for 25 years: Charlton Athletic at one point considered a possible move but instead chose to redevelop their own stadium. Fisher Athletic were a local team interested in moving to the Dome, however they were considered to have too small a fanbase to make this feasible. The Dome was planned to take over the functions performed by the London Arena, after its closure, along with The Croydon Arena which is currently being built. This is the function which The O2 arena has now undertaken.

Millennium Experience

The Millennium Dome at night, Sept 2000
The Millennium Dome at night, Sept 2000

After a private opening on the evening of December 31, 1999 the Millennium Experience at the Dome was open to the public for the whole of 2000, and contained a large number of attractions and exhibits.

The exhibits

The interior space was subdivided into 14 zones (with the lead designers of the zones):

Who we are:

  • Body, sponsored by Boots, supported by L'Oreal and Roche (Branson Coates Architecture)
  • Mind, sponsored by BAE Systems and Marconi (Office of Zaha Hadid)
  • Faith ( Eva Jiricna Architects with Jasper Jacobs Associates)
  • Self Portrait, sponsored by Marks & Spencer (Caribiner with Lorenzo Apicella at Pentagram), sculpture design by Gerald Scarfe

What we do:

  • Work, sponsored by Manpower Inc. (WORK)
  • Learning, sponsored by Tesco (WORK)
  • Rest (Richard Rogers Partnership)
  • Play (Land Design Studio)
  • Talk, sponsored by BT Group ( Imagination Group)
  • Money, sponsored by the City of London (Caribiner with Bob Baxter at Amalgam)
  • Journey, sponsored by Ford Motor Company (Imagination Group)

Where we live:

  • Shared Ground, sponsored by Camelot Group plc (WORK)
  • Living Island (WORK)
  • Home Planet, sponsored by British Airways and BAA plc (Park Avenue Productions)

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 show
The Tower that ate People arose from the floor during the stage show

Surrounded by the zones was a performance area in the centre of the dome. With music composed by Peter Gabriel and an acrobatic cast of 160, a stage show was performed 999 times over the course of the year. Throughout the year, the specially-commissioned film Blackadder: Back & Forth was shown in Skyscape (a separate cinema on the site sponsored by Sky Television plc). 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 television 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.

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.

Other attractions

There were a number of other attractions both in and outside of The Dome. Inside the Dome there was a play area named Timekeepers of the Millennium (featuring the characters Coggsley and Sprinx), The Millennium Coin Minting Press in association with the Royal Mint, the 1951 Festival of Britain Bus, and the Millennium Jewels. Outside was the Millennium Map (13 metre height), the Childhood Cube, Looking Around (a hidden installation), Greenwich Pavilion, the Hanging Gardens at the front of the Dome, as well as a number of other installations and sculpture.

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 Millennium Commission, the Lottery body which supported it. 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.

According to the UK National Audit Office, the total cost of the 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.

The aftermath

Following the closure of the Millennium Experience at the end of 2000, the dome remained closed for most of the next 6 years. It was, however, 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 was also criticised. Some reports indicated The Dome was costing £1 million per month to maintain during 2001, but the government stated that these claims were exaggerations.

Dispersal of exhibits

Following closure of the Dome, some Zones were dismantled by the sponsoring organisations, but much of the content was auctioned. 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. The Timekeepers of the Millennium attraction was acquired by the Chessington World of Adventures theme park in Surrey. A unique record of the memorabilia and paraphernalia of the MEX is held by a private collector in the U.S.A. Kiosks, bins as well as assorted souvenirs appeared at Dreamland amusement park Margate on the UK Kent coast.

Temporary reopenings

Despite the ongoing debate about the dome's future use, the dome opened again during December 2003 for the Winter Wonderland 2003 experience. The event, which featured a large fun fair, ice rink, and other attractions, culminated in a laser and firework display on New Year's Eve.

Over the 2004 Christmas period, part of the main dome was used as a shelter for the homeless and others in need, organised by the charity Crisis after superseding the London Arena, which had previously hosted the event. In 2005, when work began for the redevelopment of the Dome, the London Arena hosted the event again.

Redevelopment as The O2

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, as well as a string of sports-related investments.

The dome was publicly renamed as The O2 on May 31, 2005, in a £6 million-per-year deal with telecommunications company O2 plc, now a subsidiary of Telefónica O2. This announcement, which presaged a major redevelopment of the site that retained little beyond the shell of the dome, gave publicity to the dome's transition into an entertainment district including an indoor arena, a music club, a cinema, an exhibition space and bars and restaurants. This redevelopment was undertaken by the dome's new owners, the Anschutz Entertainment Group, to a design by HOK SVE and Buro Happold. It cost £600 million, and the resulting venue opened to the public on June 24, 2007, with a concert by rock band Bon Jovi.

Effects on political careers

Issues related to the Dome damaged Peter Mandelson's and John Prescott's political careers. (although far less than other subsequent scandals). The scheme was seen as an early example of what some saw as Tony Blair's often excessive optimism: "In the Dome we have a creation that, I believe, will truly be a beacon to the world". Although the green light and foundations for this project were provided by the previous Conservative government, it was originally envisaged on a much smaller scale, which was expanded considerably after the Labour government came to power in 1997.

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.
  • 20 June 1997 : Peter Mandelson MP put in charge of the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC).
  • 9 November 1997 : Creative director Stephen Bayley quits the project
  • 23 December 1998 : Peter Mandelson resigns from government after a financial scandal.
  • 4 January 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)
  • 22 June 1999 : structure of Dome completed.
  • 31 December 1999 & January 1, 2000 : opening night is a disaster, as VIP guests are kept waiting outside for hours because of a ticketing problem.
  • 1 January 2000 : Dome structure opens to public as the Millennium Dome containing an exhibition to celebrate the third millennium.
  • 26 July 2000 : Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee publishes adverse report on Dome's management.
  • 25 September 2000 : Michael Heseltine, the Dome's original political supporter, admits that it was a bad idea.
  • 7 November 2000 : Thieves break in to the diamond exhibit during opening hours but are foiled by waiting police. Four men were jailed for the attempted robbery on February 18, 2002
  • 9 November 2000 : National Audit Office publishes report blaming unrealistic attendance targets for the Dome's financial problems.
  • 31 December 2000 : Dome closed to the public, having attracted just over six million visitors. The initial projected figure was twelve million.
  • 27 February 2001 - March 2, 2001 : One Amazing Auction Sale: 4-day public auction with 17,000 lots of Dome/NMEC items, managed by auctioneer Henry Butcher.
  • 18 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.
  • 6 December 2003 : opening of Winter Wonderland 2003
  • 25 May 2005 : Anschutz Entertainment Group sells the naming rights to the former Millennium Dome to O2 plc, a British mobile phone company.

In popular culture

  • The Dome was featured in the pre-title sequence of the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, and in the video game of the same name, made by Electronic Arts.
  • It is also seen briefly in the title sequence of the film Stormbreaker, along with various other London landmarks.
  • A cartoon depiction of the Dome was used in the title sequence of the BBC television show Have I Got News For You
  • 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.
  • It is featured 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 car park.
  • 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 Geezers ( ISBN 1843171228) also features a history of The Dome.
  • The O2 was featured for a few seconds in the background during a sequence in the 2006 film The Da Vinci Code.
  • During the political controversy surrounding the dome in 1996 Wonder Bra ran an advertising campaign with the slogan 'Not all domes lack public support'.
  • In the Doctor Who novel Made of Steel, the Cybermen have made the empty dome their base.
  • Gideon's Daughter is a BBC television drama written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff. Starring Bill Nighy, Miranda Richardson and Emily Blunt, it aired in the UK on BBC One on February 26, 2006 and in the US on BBC America a month later. It is set against the backdrop of New Labour's rise to power, the death of Princess Diana, and the ill-advised development of The Dome. Both Nighy and Blunt received Golden Globe Awards for their performances. The show won a Peabody Award in April 2007
  • On channel 4's The Big Breakfast they had the Millennium Dome Watch, in which the same clip of the dome was used with a boat and bird going past. this was to parody the inaction over its construction.

Retrieved from ""
This Wikipedia DVD Selection was sponsored by a UK Children's Charity, SOS Children UK , and is mainly selected from the English Wikipedia with only minor checks and changes (see for details of authors and sources). The articles are available under the GNU Free Documentation License. See also our Disclaimer.