Domeland. Text Owen Hatherley, photos David Secombe. (2/5)Posted: May 10, 2011
Greenwich Peninsula, SE10. Photo © David Secombe 2002.
From A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain*, Owen Hatherley, 2010:
The Greenwich Meridian just upriver made it an obvious centre for the Millennium Celebrations in 1999, so Major’s terminal Tory government drew up plans that were swiftly adopted by New Labour when they came to power in 1997. This time, though, the then vaunted Vision Thing would be key. Mike Davies at the Richard Rogers partnership, as it was then known, devised a PVC Tent that looked akin to a squashed version of the neighbouring gasholders, with yellow supports stretching themselves out like an industrial crown. The form was borrowed from an earlier, abortive master plan for the Royal Docks on the other side of the Thames, where several smaller tents were planned before the last recession. Initially devised as temporary, the tent’s PVC was demoted to Teflon when Green campaigners complained of ‘Waste’, landing them with a semi-permanent structure they would subsequently loudly abhor. Inside would be an exhibition divided into zones on culture, science, the body. When Blair’s government won the first Labour Landslide since Clement Attlee’s in 1945, some compared this Millennium Dome to the 1951 Festival of Britain, a parade of Modernist design and popular futurism mounted on the South Bank of the Thames. ‘Three dimensional socialist propaganda’ as it was called by Churchill, who hated and demolished it, leaving nothing after a Tory re-election but the Royal Festival hall, which would be encased in Portland stone in the 1960s to harmonize with the conservative restoration architecture of the Shell Centre.
Predictably, but no less sadly for that, things did not pan out that way. The Dome’s exhibition turned out to house a vast McDonalds and array of corporate advertainment, holding it up to a public ridicule that has only recently subsided.
* published by Verso. © Owen Hatherley 2011.