Magazine article The Spectator

Visionary Guidance

Magazine article The Spectator

Visionary Guidance

Article excerpt

If you believe that architectural forms have symbolic meaning, then domes come high up the list. The circular form is the traditional symbol of the heavens, because the sky appears to cover the earth with a dome. This is why domed forms belong to religious buildings.

Was the Millennium Dome planned with such a symbolic content in mind? The answer is not important, for it has this potential and therefore does not need the special `Spirit Zone' which was announced by the Prime Minister as one of his package of treats a few weeks ago. All that is required is to make a hole in the centre of the roof as an oculus to create a vertical axis, as in the Pantheon in Rome, connecting earth and heaven, and lay out a square on the ground to provide orientation, and the job is complete. This thought may provide the consolation of a cheaper and more authentic alternative for those who, in the months to come, have the difficult task of raising money for the `Spirit Level' section of the Great Exhibition.

Whatever the inherent meaning of the Dome, the trivial content of the `Experience' will sadly diminish the meditative quality of a visit. It is too late to change it, but not too late to think about what the Dome could offer in its second season, when the monster androgynes have been cleared away and the late 1990s look like a particularly bad moment in Tony Blair's Dreamland scenic railway. Whether our political masters will have ridden a crest of millennial enthusiasm or crashed into the water by then remains to be seen, but my vote will go to anyone offering a vision commensurate with the size and symbolic pretension of the Dome building itself.

This is no trivial matter. As national governments lose more and more of their control over economy and currency, whether to multi-national companies, speculators or intranational political groupings, they owe their populations a visionary guidance, not merely examples of the art of survival. The moment when Mr Blair decided not to abandon the plans for the Dome appeared briefly to promise such vision -- surely if you want such a thing you know what you want it for. The story since then has gone from disappointment to the farce of the presentation on 24 February.

The exemplar should not be the Festival of Britain with its Dan Dare science, but something more suited to our own time. …

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