The future deserves better than nostalgia

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The Independent Online
If you feel that you have seen something like the dome before, those born before 1945 most certainly have. Clearly inspired by Ralph Tubb's Dome of Discovery at the heart of the 1951 Festival of Britain, the Millennium Dome shows that even the most avant-garde architects and forward-thinking engineers can suffer from nostalgia.

A computer image of the dome released yesterday adds to this sense of looking back: it depicts a Thirties-style airship flying over the dome at night, the scene reminiscent of the sort of son et lumiere put on for the German volk by Albert Speer, Hitler's pet architect.

It also looks like the sort of building that Dan Dare, Space Pilot of the Future, expected to see through the windscreen of his Space Fleet interceptor as he flew over London circa 2000 in the pages of the Fifties boys' comic, the Eagle.

Although the roof of the dome will be made of the latest materials - various advanced fabrics - and the giant structure with its twelve 100m masts is daring, the design undoubtedly looks back at that Indian summer of "British is best" design and engineering that saw the final flowering of the Empire.

Has the millennium team got it right? Is an update of the 1951 Dome of Discovery the right sort of architectural symbol to mark the year 2000? Probably not. Yet the Rogers' proposal is without doubt a much better option than the popular one that has called for the reconstruction of the Crystal Palace, star of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Never the less, the Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton, was truly radical in its day and though we would be unwise to adopt its form, we would benefit greatly from its spirit.

The Millennium Dome is a logical development of contemporary architecture, yet its style is rooted in buildings from aircraft hangars and exhibition halls to sports stadiums that spell "20th century" - and not the future - in large letters.

Perhaps it is difficult for architects and designers to be ahead of their time, and yet we need a building that will lead us somehow into the future. That building must be, in many ways, a shot in the dark and not just a large-scale extension of what we can already do. Quite simply, the Millennium Dome gives off the wrong signals: it is already yesterday's architecture.

The Rogers team's ability to design a futuristic form of architecture is not in question: the Pompidou Centre (1971-77) revolutionised our idea of the public museum and art gallery - we need that level of imagination. In 1851, Britain looked forwards; it did so again in 1951. Fifty years on, we should be doing so again.

One of the reasons why the design might be a little conservative is that it needs to appeal to corporate sponsors who will want to back a safe bet. Unlike the Great Exhibition (money raised by subscription) or the Festival of Britain (state-funded) the Millennium Festival must be paid for to a significant extent by private enterprise.

To date, British Airways, BT and British Aerospace have made contributions. Are they looking for a tame, if gigantic, trade show or a leap of faith into an unknown future?

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