Skip to page content


Latest news

25 October 1999

Millennium Dome shows it's not just a pretty space

Four of the engineers who created the Millennium Dome have won the 1999 Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award, the UK's most coveted prize for innovation in engineering. Ian Liddell FREng, Paul Westbury, Dawood Pandor and Gary Dagger of the renowned engineering consultancy Buro Happold will share the £50,000 prize and their company will receive a gold medal. HRH Prince Philip, Senior Fellow of the Academy, will make the presentations on Wednesday 24 November at Buckingham Palace.

The Millennium Dome, the largest fabric building in the world, is only the second construction project ever to win the MacRobert Award during its 30-year history. Back in 1969, Freeman Fox & Partners won the award for building the original Severn Bridge.

The Dome is ahead of its time - its revolutionary construction represents the future of large-span, value-for-money buildings. Although it is huge, covering the area of two Wembley stadiums, the Greenwich Dome is small compared with the scale of what Buro Happold could now build using the technology they perfected on the Millennium Dome. "Size isn't usually everything, but it is for the Dome," says Ian Liddell, Partner at Buro Happold and a world expert on lightweight structures. "The Dome works because it is so enormous - 70 km of cables are held at tensions of over 40 tonnes. There's no limit to how much bigger you could make a structure like this, because the forces work with it rather than against it, unlike previous fabric buildings. Until now this has not been possible with conventionally designed fabric buildings."

"Although the Dome looks curved, it's made entirely from flat fabric supported by straight cables," says Liddell. The MacRobert Award judges were impressed by the use of modular components. "Buro Happold has used existing technology in a very innovative way," says Professor Geoff Hewitt FREng, Chairman of the judging panel. "Building the Dome worked out to be a far more cost-effective solution on that site than one of the original proposals, housing the Millennium Experience in separate buildings linked by walkways."

"Ian and his team, as the world's leading cable structures design group, thoroughly deserve this award for this spectacular project," says Mike Davies of Richard Rogers Partnership, architect of the Dome. "The collaboration between Buro Happold and Richard Rogers Partnership has been creative, exciting and enjoyable and has resulted in a unique and beautiful structure, which does so much with so little. A great celebratory expression of the Millennium."

Future applications of "Dome" technology raise the intriguing possibility of covering huge areas of inhospitable land in extreme climate zones. Liddell envisages covering a city in a transparent super dome - creating a comfortable environment in which to live and work. With limited land available for building in the temperate zones, this might help to house the world's expanding population. "A few years ago we did a feasibility study on the idea of covering a city in Northern Alberta, where they mine tar sands," Liddell says. "It's well below freezing in winter and they have black flies in the summer. At the time all we could propose to protect the people was an air-supported structure, which was fraught with problems. With the breakthrough of the Dome we can now cover such spaces."

Buro Happold beat off stiff competition for the MacRobert Award from three other finalists that could not be more different from the Dome.

The judges look for ground-breaking projects that could change the world - those shortlisted this year all have the potential to do that. British Aerospace Systems and Equipment designed their tiny VSG gyroscope for cars, but it is already finding some interesting medical applications. Carbospars' smart carbon-fibre mast makes life easier for sailors, but a spin-off technology is also helping to monitor buildings in earthquake zones; and digital terrestrial TV, developed by NDS, will change the way we use TV completely, giving us choice and interactivity previously undreamed of.

A special exhibition, Engineering the Dome, opens on 25 November 1999 at London's Science Museum, showing how the Buro Happold team created the largest fabric building in the world.


Notes for editors

  1. The Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award is Britain's premier prize for engineering. It is given annually for outstanding innovation of benefit to the community. First presented in 1969, the award consists of a gold medal and £50,000 prize.
  2. The Royal Academy of Engineering aims to pursue, encourage and maintain excellence across the whole field of engineering in order to promote the advancement of the science, art and practice of engineering for the benefit of the public. The Academy comprises the UK's most eminent engineers and is able to use their combined wealth of knowledge and experience to meet its objectives.
  3. Buro Happold is a multi-disciplinary international practice of consulting engineers established in 1976 offering civil and structural engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering, quantity surveying, building services and environmental engineering, infrastructure and traffic engineering, geotechnical engineering, fa├žade engineering, fire engineering, Computational Fluid Dynamics analysis, access consultancy, project management, urban design and a range of specialist CAD services.

For more information please contact:

Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering
tel: 020 7227 0536 (direct), email:
Helen Elias at Buro Happold
Tel: 01225 320627; mobile 07703 129599, email:


RSS Feed icon RSS Feed



[top of the page]