Millennial Tensions: Is this Dome thing big enough for the men who can't get it up?

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The Independent Online
Will the views of practising Satanists be adequately represented in the great Millennium experience that the Dome is set to provide? Will Christianity be illustrated by anything more than a couple of dodgy looking puppets from the film The Jesus Story? Is this structure really big enough to house the male egos that are already having difficulty getting it up?

These are just some of the questions that have yet to be answered. Apparently, we can't be told what exactly is going to be in the dome as then we would not pay to go and see it, but ... come on boys, give us a clue. Instead Stephen Bayley flounces out of the project, Mandelson goes to worship at the shrine of Disney and wayward Tories call for the head of Sir Terence Conran because he has said that a dominant Christian theme would "be absolutely inappropriate". Things do not look too good.

Andrew Marr has argued on these pages that the Dome has become a convenient symbol for anyone who wants to criticise officialdom or this Government. That may be true though we hardly need an empty tent in order to that. He has also said that it acts as "a malign psychic magnet" for all kinds of unease. If only that were the case. A psychic magnet would at least have some power. At the moment we simply stare at a circle of cranes in an estuary and wonder what fresh hell is this.

I am not against the idea of the Dome in theory. The puritanism that suggests all money must be spent on obvious social need has never been my cup of tea. Celebration, leisure, visionary risk-taking contribute in the end to the collective social good. I am then, I suspect, like many others, open to persuasion on this matter, yet dismayed at the sheer arrogance on display.

This is a top down project, which is precisely what is causing so many of the problems. A few competing egomaniacs are deciding what is good for us. There is little sense of an organic project evolving out of what people want. We feel the whole structure is being imposed upon us and, naturally enough, resent such an imposition. Once more all the supposed PR and image making skills of this Government should be called into question. How have they got it so wrong? Why do they continue to insist the nation is excited about something it clearly isn't. I have not heard one enthusiastic conversation about the project, except by those somehow involved.

Part of the problem of course is that, in the normal run of events, buildings are built because there is a specific need for them to exist, to house people or things that need to be housed. The Dome, on the other hand, is being created in a vacuum: it is being built: therefore a need must be found for it to exist. This is why its impermanence is such a problem, not only environmentally but because it adds to the half-baked and wasteful feel of the whole enterprise. The other difficulty is to do with the abstract nature of what we are being asked to celebrate and vicariously participate in: "time", "the future", "the place in which we are all going to live" sound so vague that they are virtually meaningless. What all this boils do to, when one asks how will these things be brought to life, is one thing: technology.

The squabbles about "Conran or Christ ", whether God or Mammon will fill the Dome seem strangely anachronistic. If the Dome's purpose is to reflect our self-image then it will need to be that of a largely secular nation with pockets of faith here and there, a quick nod to Christianity perhaps but that's about it. Another kind of faith already dominates thinking behind the Dome, faith in design and technology, a faith that is being so badly communicated by its believers.

For communication is the crux of the matter. I hate to draw attention to the obvious point, but as we are left with little to do but gawp at a circular building site and witness the daily jostling of male egos, one wonders where the female input is into this millennial vision. Where are the voices that wish to include rather than exclude us from this precious vision?

Whereas the discussions about the best way to commemorate Diana's life proceed from a perceived need to produce something lasting, a response to the populist feeling about what she represented, the Dome continues to proceed from the opposite position. I never understood why Diana could not just be put in the Dome - a way of killing two birds with one stone if that is not an unfortunate metaphor - how to fill the space and how to draw crowds.

One could argue that all visionary projects have to take off from a standing start, but it is not true that all of them are met with such overwhelming apathy. It is possible to excite and stimulate even the jaded citizens of the late twentieth century. The new Guggenheim built by Frank Gehry in Bilbao for a fraction of the price of the Dome is modern wonder of the world. Those of us who have never once thought of visiting Bilbao want to see this beautiful piece of architecture. Show a classroom of children a picture of this museum and they ooh and aah. They have simply never seen anything like it. It exists not only as a sight in itself but has a clearly defined purpose. No one will be asking to pull it down in twenty years time.

Alas it is too late for us to have a structure of equivalent beauty . We have instead opted for something far more expensive and far less architecturally risky. The bravest thing to do would be leave to the Dome empty,to create a cathedral of space. Everyone could then see exactly what they wanted to see for the future.

As this looks unlikely it is now up to the Dome heads to act far less loftily and actually begin to talk to us instead of to each other. If the future will be defined by new methods of communication that in their way produce new kinds of community, then how come the whole thing is already being talked of as a massive failure of communication?

Mandelson et al may have faith in the fickleness of the public: one day they say they don't want something, the next they queue up for hours to visit it . What they seem to lack faith in is any idea of consultation and democracy - beyond bloody focus groups. Perhaps that's why the future feels like it's already been sewn up. Its too late to ask for your cash back. Instead you are expected pay good money to glimpse someone else's vision of the future. You can look but don't touch. You can take a guided tour through it. Just don't ask to be actually included in it.