Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 17:59 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 17:59 | SYDNEY

The noughties, by design


Sam Roggeveen


16 December 2009 15:01

Via Infrastructurist, here's a very entertaining and instructive list of highlights from the world of design over the last decade. It includes objects that have quickly taken on iconic status, such as the iPod and Beijing's bird's nest stadium.

The piece begins, quite properly, with a short reflection on New York's World Trade Center towers, destroyed early in the decade, and which have since taken on a larger place in the world's imagination than they did while standing. But after that beginning, the writer makes no real attempt at a chronological list, so I'm wondering how you might book-end that World Trade Center observation. What piece of design or architecture from the last part of the decade reflects the changes that have taken place in the world since the WTC towers came down?

The obvious place to look is Beijing, since China has made such huge economic and political leaps this decade. As I observed during my short visit there in April, there is a good sprinkling of joyful and exuberant architecture in Beijing, and you could point to that as representing an open and modern China that wants to impress the world.

If you were feeling less charitable about China's rise, the new CCTV headquarters (pictured) could be your design symbol of the decade. Sure, it has that gimmicky, Escher-like shape, but by dint of its brutish scale, it looks to my eyes just as much a symbol of hubris and subjugation as the WTC towers did (it's all in the eye of the beholder, of course; WTC architect Minoru Yamasaki believed his creation was a symbol of world peace).

Still on CCTV, though of a different kind, if you're concerned about the rise of the surveillance state, maybe the humble closed-circuit TV camera is your design symbol of the decade.

Given the direct line from the 9/11 attacks to the war in Iraq, perhaps the new US Embassy in Baghdad represents a neat design book-end to the WTC towers. According to Wikipedia it's the largest and most expensive US Embassy in the world, and functions as a city within the city. Here's a 2007 Vanity Fair piece about the building.

Still in the Middle East, maybe the ultimate symbol of the global financial crisis will be the world's tallest building, the Burj Dubai, which as I reported in January, may struggle to find tenants.

But perhaps the neatest design symbol for the close of the decade is Boeing's 787, which made its maiden flight yesterday. It's a fairly conventional bit of design, though seeing it airborne does show off that elegant, bendy wing.

More important is what it represents. Boeing's new jetliner is designed to radically improve the efficiency and comfort of long-range flight, but it was also meant to change the way such planes were built.

As I wrote in September, at its birth the 787 program represented the promise of globalisation, but after long delays caused partly by trying to source parts from all over the world, Boeing's troubled program now looks like a symbol of why globalisation may be in reverse. As Slate.com put it last week:

Businesses have learned in the past two years that the longer the supply chain, the more possibilities there are for disruptions—from flu viruses, geopolitical disturbances, and spikes in energy prices. While China is still the world's factory, in an age of volatile demand, some companies have realized that manufacturing closer to home is more efficient, even if production costs are higher.

Photos by Flickr users Johnnie Utah and stephenjjohnson, used under a Creative Commons license.