Love it or loathe it, Richard Rogers’ Dome was the architectural icon of of Britain’s new millennium. The hubristic creation of Michael Heseltine and Peter Mandelson, it was meant to symbolise our country’s post-Thatcher renaissance, all Britpop and Cool Britannia. It didn’t work out quite like that.
Along with millions of other Britons, we didn’t make it to the Dome in its inaugural year. We were too busy with our new arrival, our own Millennium baby. He just turned eight and for his birthday treat we took him and his friends to see the Tutankhamum exhibition at the Dome now renamed The O2.
Disclosure: I work for a competitor to O2, but my problem is not with their sponsorship. O2’s own branded interventions – a nightclub, ice rink and inflatable chill-out zones – have their own integrity and fit with the aesthetic of the Dome itself. The naming rights have been seen through with Orwellian ruthlessness: no mention of Millennia, or even of Domes, it’s The O2, plain and simple.
Yet our impression as we walked along the narrow shopping mall that skirts the perimeter of The O2 was a distinctly underwhelming “is this it?”
From the outside the space is huge, but the way the new arena, cinema, exhibition space and leisure facilities have been fitted in manages to totally obscure this once inside. Worse, the partitions that carve up the space are treated as clumsily cut out faux art deco stage setting with no acknowledgement of the structure itself.
Suburban shopping mall, airport terminal, Las Vegas casino, Dubai resort – this could be anywhere. Only it’s not just anywhere. It’s one of our landmarks, a tarnished one but a landmark all the same. Had the hype curve for the Dome dipped so low that we’d settle for this? Britain Deserves Better.