Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Open for business

The O2 (formerly known as the Dome) opens its doors this month, weeks ahead of schedule (see Wembley? That’s how it’s done). The Dome has been much maligned in its seven-year lifetime. The Millennium Dome was the government’s white elephant. When the exhibition celebrating the year 2000 and the third millennium was open, it was criticised as too expensive, too crowded and not attracting enough customers, the structure was said to be ugly.

I visited the exhibition while it was still open; I took advantage of the little publicised £10 tickets available in the final hour of opening. The exhibition was huge, there were a lot of people there but the size of place meant it didn’t feel crowded. And the enormous icecreams took the edge of any queuing. The Dome was a fun day out. Eventually the Dome attracted 6.5million visitors, well short of the forecasted 12million, but that was a ridiculously inflated estimate. To put this in perspective, the London Eye is described as ‘the most popular paid for UK visitor attraction’ with 3.5million visitors a year (according to their website).

As for the architecture, I like it. It’s not beautiful but it is striking. Huge and imposing, it’s impossible to miss as you take the DLR towards Greenwich. The architecture is known as ‘tensile’ – it’s constructed of elements carrying only tension with no compression or bending.

When the Dome closed there were several proposals for what should be done with it, including a football stadium and a super casino, neither appeared, for which I’m glad. Instead we have The O2: an enormous, multi-faceted entertainment complex with an arena, music hall, exhibition space, shops, bars, cinema and ice rink. This is exactly what London in general, and south-east London in particular, needed.

The centrepiece of The O2 is the 23,000-seat arena. London’s first purpose-built music venue since the Royal Albert Hall in 1837, the arena ‘is designed specifically for music events whilst retaining all the functionality to transform it into an indoor sports facility within hours,’ according to The O2. The acoustics are the most advanced of any venue in Europe, it has been ‘designed to provide a balanced sound, achieved by treating the entire underside of the roof, the upper walls, balcony fronts and seats to absorb sound and reduce the risk of any echoes or unwanted audio reflections’. The arena will be launched on 24 June with a special inaugural concert by Bon Jovi. Other acts include The Scissor Sisters, Snow Patrol, Barbra Streisand, Justin Timberlake and Take That.

Other attractions include a more intimate music hall, the indigO2, which seats 2,300 people and will open in July with a Jools Holland gig. There’s also an 11-screen cinema, a leisure district with over 20 bars, restaurants, cafes and shops, including Gary Rhodes’s newest restaurant and a venture from Roast, the celebrated eatery in Borough Market. The exhibition, known as the Bubble, opens in November with the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, before these celebrated treasures return to Egypt forever. And don’t forget the ice rink, which I have to say I’m very excited about. I’ve been obsessed with ice skating since I saw Torvill and Dean take gold but I’ve never lived near a rink before.

The O2 is enormous. Just look at these statistics: it has an overall diameter of 365 metres, one metre for every day it was open as the Millennium Dome, and a circumference of one kilometre; at its central point it is 50 metres high and the steel masts are 100 metres high, there are 12 of these masts, representing the hours on a clock face, a reference to Greenwich Mean Time; the ground floor area is more than 80,000 square metres.

If these figures mean as little to you as they do to me, maybe these facts will make it easier to picture:
· If The 02 were ever turned upside down Niagara Falls would take 15 minutes to fill it
· Likewise it would take a million pints of beer to fill it
· Or 1,100 Olympic sized swimming pools
· The O2’s volume equals thirteen Albert Halls
· Or 10 St Paul’s Cathedrals
· Or two Wembley Stadiums
· 18,000 double-decker buses could fit into the 02
· The O2 is as high as Nelson’s Column
· The Eiffel Tower lying on its side would fit into the 02
· The O2 could hold 12 football pitches
· Or 72 tennis courts
· The venue will employ around 1,500 people

The O2

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