Designs that changed our world

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Pig table.

Pig table.

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The Savoy vase designed by Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino.

The Savoy vase designed by Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino.

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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

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Best and Worst lists are always a matter of opinion. Designs that have changed the world is a particularly far reaching and broad category. In compiling our list, we instigated a series of our own criteria – the designs should come from the last century (or thereabouts) – so the wheel, as important as it is, was axed. We made a distinction between invention and design – so though important, syringes or number 8 wire didn’t make it. Also, though we have chosen a single object, each of these designs represents a bigger change than just one object; the pieces are almost symbols for a concept of change – a societal shift like feminism, or a democratisation of design, or a technological advance that has influenced everything that came after. We also had a bit of fun, and have included a few designs that haven’t been out for long, and we expect their influence to become more significant over time. So, in no particular order, Urbis presents the list of designs that have changed our world.

Furniture - Pig Table, Front
Designed by Front, a collective of women in Stockholm, Sweden, the Pig table is part of a series of objects that take an unusual approach to design. A life-size horse with a lamp shade over its head, a small rabbit made into a table lamp and this pig recast as side table, are potent examples of a recent irreverent approach to design by an ever-inventive design community that value wit, humour and culture as much as function. By rejecting abstraction and taking inspiration from a living creature, the Pig table delivers a powerful emotive reaction. It is works like this that are defining contemporary furniture design – reinterpreting well-known imagery, adding humour and generally taking some of the seriousness of high design away. The fact that these talented women work in a collective – also a defining collaborative approach to modern design – also pulls them out
as instrumental to recent change.
Pig Table available from ECC.

Savoy Vase, Alvar and Aino Aalto
The wavy, curved form of the Savoy vase was said to be inspired by an Inuit woman’s leather breeches. Designed in 1936, the free-form shaped vase made a distinct shift away from the symetrical, upright vases of the time, and opened up new possibilities for glass design.

Architecture - Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Frank Gehry
Love it or hate it, Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has defined the contemporary era of architecture. The first significant project that was designed and built relying on CAD software to marry up the complex curves and non-rectilinear forms, Bilbao changed the possibilities of design. Amorphous globular, facetted and organic shapes became not mere figments of imaginations, but possible. Expensive, time consuming and often quite ugly possibilities, but possibilities nonetheless. Thankfully the trend for amoeba-like buildings has mostly died down, but CAD design will forever be a significant part of how buildings are drawn, rendered and created.
The other influential element of Gehry’s Guggenheim is the Bilbao phenomenon of architecture as a tourism destination. This has had a significant effect on urban planning and the contemporary almost-obsessive desire for architecture – cultural buildings in particular – to be iconic forms, often at the expense of other more subtle and necessary needs.

Fashion - Miniskirt, Mary Quant
If we can credit Chanel for breaking out of the corset and raising hems at the beginning of the 20th century, it was Mary Quant who hiked up those skirts even shorter in 1965 by creating something she called a miniskirt, named after her favourite car. Though the trend for shorter skirts was later seen as objectifying women, in the 1960s the miniskirt was considered a symbol of liberation. 

See the full list in Issue 61 of Urbis.

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