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Roof gives new life to old Dome

Exteriors | September 1, 2007 | By:

Re-emerging after bad press, the Millennium Dome shows that there’s always a chance to change.

All eyes in London turned to the Greenwich Peninsula at the end of June, when the ill-fated Millennium Dome opened its doors as the newly re-branded O2 with a spectacular concert from veteran stadium rocker Jon Bon Jovi.

One of the largest fabric structures in the world, the Dome—which distinctly failed to impress as the spearhead of the UK’s Millennium celebrations—has had a complete makeover. Re-branded as the O2, the central zone of the award-winning cablenet structure now shelters a bowl-shaped arena 152m in diameter, complete with 20,000 padded seats, each with a drink holder. The walls have even been stuffed with lambswool to improve the acoustics. Up to 50 tonnes of equipment can be hung from the new roof, whilst the main floor can be transformed to an ice rink in two hours. A purpose-built street, which wraps around the 80,000m2 complex, contains a 2,000 capacity Live Music Club, exhibition and theater spaces as well as bars and restaurants. An 11-screen cinema includes the largest digital cinema screen in Europe at 22m across.

The design team tasked with transforming the venue comprised HOK SVE, engineer Buro Happold and main contractor, Sir Robert McAlpine. The biggest single engineering challenge was height. The fabric roof sat 47.5m above ground level, which meant that the use of high-level cranes inside the Dome was impossible. To counter this Buro Happold had to strand-jack the new roof’s components into position over a period of six weeks. It’s a tight fit—with a clear air space of just 4m between the top of the new arena and the actual roof of the building. The ceiling can be lowered to turn the arena into a cozier 10,000-capacity setting.

An Olympic Venue in 2012, The O2 Arena will host the gymnastics and basketball finals whilst in 2009 it will play host to the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships.

Helen Elias is Fabric Architecture’s European-based contributing editor. Her article on a specialist science and math college in the UK appeared in the July/August issue.

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