14 MARCH 1998, Page 49

Visionary guidance

Alan Powers on what to do with the Dome after the 2000 Millennium Experience 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 pack- age 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, connect- ing earth and heaven, and lay out a square on the ground to provide orientation, and the job is complete. This thought may pro- vide 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 'Experi- ence' 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 gov- ernments lose more and more of their con- trol 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. Let me take you round.

You begin by walking along a London street. Turning a few corners, it becomes darker and you enter the door of an ordi- nary house, one of the homes of William Blake. The visit becomes a 'dark ride' through Blake's vision of Albion, showing how a state of primordial innocence was lost, almost by accident, through excessive individualism and devotion to material fact.

From the singing and dancing of the early parts of the ride (you can get off and join in, with rather good food and drink available), you experience the freezing darkness of Urizen's imprisonment in chains of thought, the repression of all spir- ituality (a little model of the 2000 Millenni- um Experience would not be out of place here as an example) until, with tremendous special effects, the chains are broken and Albion is set free again in innocence regained, to the strains of Sir Hubert Parry's setting of 'Jerusalem'. By this time you are out of doors, with real trees and a real river, real rain if necessary or perhaps, as Gulley Jimson observed from the oppo- site bank in The Horse's Mouth, 'sunset by Randipole Billy'. Add a farmers' market where you can buy something really good to take home and eat.

Blake's original illuminated books could be exhibited in a quiet place to the side of the route. The torments of Blake's vision of mental hell need not be all latex monsters, for England leads the world in contempo- rary craft automata makers, like Ron Fuller and Paul Spooner, who would bring a grisly mental rigour to the task of show- ing Britain a true picture of itself, as they did for that great unseen masterpiece of the 1980s, 'The Ride of Life'. I suspect Blake would have seen the instructive potential of the dark ride, which has about it some of the transformative mystery of Philip de Loutheburg's Eidophusikon, a sound-and-light show for Regency tourists.

Our government's attempt to use its imagination in planning the Dome has fall- en flat for a number of circumstantial rea- sons, but encompassing them all is a complete failure to see beyond material causes and results. As Blake said. 'Where there is no vision, the people perish', or, we might add, simply lose interest.

'I wondered if you could lose my emotional baggage?'