Mike Davies of the Richard Rogers Partnership lifted the spirits with a first-rate lecture on the Millennium Dome at the Royal Society of Arts this week. There is nothing to beat hearing a story straight from the horse's mouth, and this is a remarkable one, with a cast list of hundreds, intense co-operative working, technical innovation, political and funding dramas galore - it would make a great film. In the week that Shakespeare in Love deservedly won its clutch of Oscars, the comparison seems apposite - ideas translated into a sophisticated product as a result of years of effort working against tight deadlines and budgetary constraints, resolved through the creative compromises achieved when architecture combines with engineering, manufacturing and construction.
How does the production of such a building fit into the world of Egan- style production-line buildings? At one level not at all, since this building, or rather loose-fit envelope, is unlikely to be repeated. It is a glorious one-off, and like this week's cinematic counterpart, is not a product to which a sequel is required. However, the architect has worked with engineer Buro Happold for decades, since the Pompidou Centre competition in 1972. Watsons Steel, whose yellow masts dominate the Dome skyline, is a textbook example of the best sort of British manufacturer able to put into effect years of experience in the creation of something special, where process has been crucial to a successful outcome.
But process in itself is not enough. The inspirations for this landmark are varied and complex: Davies spoke of his love for astronomy and it is tempting to see the Dome as his metaphor for the universe, encompassing as it does symbolic forms and ways of representing time, theology and nature. It can also be said to have put fun into functionalism, courtesy of an architect who wanted to do his thesis project on lightweight structures, but whose school of architecture wanted him to design a hospital or a brewery. So he went to the aa instead. The rest is history.