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Amazing grace

Foresight; Millennium celebrations

Form triumphs over content at the Dome. The theming of its 14 zonesfeels just a bit contrived. There is barely enough information, entertainment, education or spectacle to fill the super abundance of space allocated to each.

But at best, the striking, challenging and absorbing structures framing many of the zones more than compensate. To the fore are the Mind zone by engineer Ove Arup with architect Zaha Hadid, Work and Learning zones by Atelier 10 with Alford Hall Monaghan & Morris, the Journey zone by Buro Happold with Imagination, the Body by Buro Happold with Branson Coates, and Money by Atelier 10 with Caribiner/Amalgam.

Nothing can detract from the structural adventurism, immaculate detailing and sheer gargantuism of the Dome itself. If you feel at all let down by the substance, you can't fail to be impressed by the infrastructure.

The critical beating that has been meted out to the Dome is not wholly without justification. As you might expect of a New Labour project, the zones are strongly on message. Soundbites abound. Some places have a feeling of 'so what?-ism' about facts intended to impress, and questions posed are frequently left unanswered.

However, as a whole the Dome's exhibits are forward looking.

In the Journey zone (sponsored by Ford, as you are reminded more than once) our current bogey of cars and congestion is tackled. Integration is our future, it suggests - one with guided bus and taxi routes, low- energy wave-skimming planes, tilting trains and speedy trams, ultra-fast container ships and tiny, 400 miles per gallon motor-bikes.

What is so engrossing about all of these visions is their tangibility. Every whizzy proposal is now under development and some have a real delivery date. London's Crossrail project and Heathrow Terminal 5 feature prominently.

Despite some beautiful packaging, queues for the unalluringly named Work zone were notably shorter than for nearly anywhere else. It stressed, and reiterated with a veritable casino of illustrative games, the importance of multi-skilling, IT literacy, communications and team working. Every competent civil engineer will, of course, already know that all these are part and parcel of doing a good job.

But as working practices evolve, the zone anticipates parallel increases in workers' ability to determine their own career paths and spend time outside work doing their own thing. It is a message overstretched engineers may be gladdened to hear.

In the light of its future seeking, problem solving role, the Dome's infrastructure takes on a particularly hopeful aspect. Its masterplan is a model of rational planning, with easy circulation. The streetscape is composed of vigorous, exciting architecture. People are everywhere and, despite the griping of other journalists, I saw no bored children or disappointed adults. There is more to do at the Dome than can possibly be achieved in a single day, however amazing.

Go have a look for yourself.

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