The Millennium Dome, or simply the Dome, is the first name of a large dome-shaped building originally used to house the Millennium Experience, a major exhibition celebrating the beginning of the third millennium. The dome still exists, and it is now a key exterior feature of The O2 – a high-tech business park and sports and entertainment venue.
The project and exhibition were the subject of considerable political controversy as it failed to attract the number of visitors anticipated and faced recurring financial problems. All of the original exhibition and associated complexes have since been demolished.
The Dome is one of the largest structures of its type in the world. It has become one of the United Kingdom’s most recognisable landmarks. It can easily be seen on aerial photographs of London. Interestingly, the entire roof structure weighs less than the air contained within the building.
Externally, the Dome appears as a large white marquee with twelve 100-metre-tall 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 and has 365 metres in circumference — one metre for each day of the year — with scalloped edges. Although it is referred to as a dome, it is not strictly one as it is not self-supporting, but a mast-supported, dome-shaped cable network. For this reason, it has been disparagingly referred to as the Millennium Tent. The canopy is made of PTFE-coated glass fibre fabric, a durable and weather-resistant plastic, and is 52 metres tall in the middle – one metre for each week of the year. Its symmetry is interrupted by a hole through which a ventilation shaft from the Blackwall Tunnel rises.
After a private opening on the evening of 31 December 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 exhibitions.
The interior space was subdivided into 14 zones: Body, Mind, Faith, Self-Portrait, Work, Learning, Rest, Play, Talk, Money, Journey, Shared Ground, Living Island, and Home Planet. Surrounded by the zones was a performance area in the centre of the Dome. There were also a number of other attractions both in and outside the Dome.
By late 2000, a proposal had been made for a high-tech business park to be erected under the tent area, creating an ‘indoor city’, complete with streets, parks and buildings. It cost £600 million, and the resulting venue opened to the public on 24 June 2007, with a concert by rock band Bon Jovi.
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 (0.61 km2) of surrounding land. The Dome was publicly renamed as The O2 on 31 May 2005, in a £6 million-per-year deal with telecommunications company O2 plc. 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. During the 2012 Summer Olympics, the artistic gymnastics events, along with the medal rounds of basketball, were held at The O2.