Millennium Dome

Year:1998

Duration:1 year

Cost:£700m

Country: Greenwich, UK

Build an exhibition centre to celebrate the start of the 21st century

The Millennium Dome is the original name of a large dome-shaped structure near Greenwich in south London.

Known as the O2 since 2005 – and after an extensive redevelopment as a concert arena and entertainment centre - the Dome was originally built to house the Millennium Experience, a government-backed exhibition celebrating the start of the 21st century.

Open for every day of 2000, the exhibition attracted controversy as it not only went over budget, but also failed to bring in the 12m visitors organisers predicted. Only 6.5m people came over the year, and the Dome lost money.

Strictly speaking, the building isn’t really a dome, as it’s not self-supporting – it’s a marquee supported on 12 yellow towers, each 100 metres high.

Like much of the Dome’s structure and dimensions, the 12 towers represent aspects of time; 12 months in a year and 12 hours on a clock face.

The structure is 365m in diameter – one metre for every day of a standard year.

One of the largest buildings of its type in the world, the Dome is one of the UK’s most recognisable landmarks. It’s clearly visible in aerial photographs of London.

Difference the project has made

Despite the Dome’s failure as a money-making exhibition venue, it’s still seen as a landmark in 20th century engineering.

The O2 – which took over much of the space in the original structure - is now a successful entertainment complex and concert arena. With shops, cinemas and two music venues, it’s brought employment to the area and helped boost the local economy.

The Dome is credited with damaging the political careers of Peter Mandelson and John Prescott, the two government ministers who were most closely associated with the project.

How the work was done

Engineers coated the canopy of the Dome with Teflon – an artificial glass-fibre fabric. The material is durable and weather-resistant.

The canopy rises 52 metres high in the middle – one metre for each week of the year. There’s a hole in the material through which a ventilation shaft from the Blackwall Tunnel rises.

Workers used the foundation, main supports and roof fabric to create an interior floor area of 80,000m².

Engineers used a web of 2,600 cables suspended from a circle of 12 steel masts inclined slightly from the vertical to support the roof canopy.

The masts were delivered to the construction site in six segments and were welded together before being lifted into position. Each mast rises 100m above the ground.

The roof is 320m across. The entire roof structure weighs less than the air inside the Dome itself.

"​‌

Visitors come together for a shared experience… a show that united the audience with a shared emotion and shared wonder.

David Lister

The Independent

Fascinating facts

The Dome features in the pre-credits sequence of the James Bond movie ‘The World is not Enough’. In the sequence, Bond rolls down the roof of the Dome.

The opening credits of BBC TV soap ‘EastEnders’ were altered to include the Dome after the structure was completed.

Katy Hill and Richard Bacon – then presenters of ‘Blue Peter’, BBC TV’s long-running programme for children – buried a time capsule in the foundations of the Dome in 1998. The capsule was meant to be opened in 2050 but was unearthed during construction work in 2017. The BBC said the capsule would be re-buried with new items inside.

People who made it happen

  • Client: UK government
  • Architect: Richard Rogers
  • Consulting engineers: Buro Happold

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