Design for futurist Britain will crown Year 2000 show

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A BRITAIN of the future, simulated by computers, is likely to be the central feature of the Millennium Exhibition being planned to mark the year 2000.

Projection of the millennium to come will crown the celebration of the one now ending, in a display - possibly in London's Hyde Park - intended to rival the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Festival of Britain of 1951, and paid for by the proceeds of theNational Lottery.

According to the exhibition's organiser, the former Times editor Simon Jenkins, the future should be the key theme of the one-year exhibition. "The focus of any festival would have to be the evocation of the future," he said. "It would centre more on thefuture than on the past. This would be done using some of the new exhibition technology, including simulation and virtual reality. You can simulate the future."

Mr Jenkins, who is chairman of the Millennium Commission's festival committee, said he had in mind the sort of techniques employed in computer games like Sim City, in which players create a metropolis of their own which then develops independently according to the different features which have been chosen, such as population, finance, transport. landscape and industry.

Using three-dimensional computer graphics, Sim City, developed by the Californian computer company Maxis, allows players to govern a population of simulated citizens, who have competing interests, and try to keep the city's services running while balancing the budget. "Prosper or perish!" say its adverts.

Mr Jenkins has something similar in mind for Britain as a whole, on a large scale, which visitors to the exhibition could try for themselves. It would be the climax of the exhibition which, he feels, could start at the first century AD and finish in the present, with a room for each century, using exhibits from museums nationwide.

An early question for the Millennium Commission, with £1.6bn of National Lottery proceeds to spend, is whether to stage the exhibition on one site, which would require a competition to design a building. In 1850 Joseph Paxton won a competition with his design for the Crystal Palace, modelled on the lily house at Chatsworth, which subsequently became the Great Exhibition's home. Dr John Davis, a history fellow at Queen's College, Oxford, specialising in the 19th century, pointed out: "Any desig n for a festival building will presumably be seen by the Prince of Wales. A political decision will have to be made whether to involve him or not - and he is not known for his love of modern architecture."

If a single site is chosen, possibilities include King's Cross, Greenwich, the South Bank, where the Festival of Britain was partly staged, and the docklands. Regent's Park, Battersea Park and particularly Hyde Park are also contenders. Another possibility would be to hold the exhibition at separate sites around Britain and unite them with video links, simulation or some other form of technical wizardry.

The Millennium Festival seems likely to echo the Great Exhibition in more ways than one. Suggested locations for that in 1848 included Regent's Park, Battersea Fields - then the haunt of gypsies, fortune tellers and vagrants - Primrose Hill and the Isle of Dogs.

Concerns voiced then , about cost, crime, whether admission should be charged and the traffic jams it caused, are likely to recur in coming months as the millennial arrangements swing into action.