BEST OF 2011
1 Museo Soumaya by Fernando Romero
Fernando Romero has been the golden boy of Mexico for some time now, scooping up dozens of “one to watch” awards since he departed from OMA in 1999. But in March, the 40-year-old unveiled his largest project yet, the $70-million Museo Soumaya in Mexico City – a molar-shaped art museum encrusted with reflective aluminium hexagons. Big, bold and shimmery, the building’s megabuck swagger is justified, considering the art collection it houses is a canon of modern western art history and owned by Carlos Slim, who Forbes calls the world’s richest man.
2 The driverless car
Google’s autopilot car reached a new milestone in June, when Nevada amended its laws to allow human-free vehicles on its roads. Google has been working with Sebastian Thrun, director of Standford University’s artificial intelligence lab, whose team has driven over 22,000 kilometres using prototype cars. Thrun’s aim is to make driving safer by eliminating human error. In fact, the only accidents with the prototypes so far have occurred when humans were at the wheel.
3 The year of Ai Wei Wei
China’s most famous dissident artist has been through a lot this year and still remains on uncertain ground even after his release following an 81-day detention that began in April. The global outcry was swift and impressive when news hit Ai Wei Wei had been arrested at an airport in Hong Kong. Exhibitions of his work turned up in various cities, including a major retrospective now on in Taipei until January 2012. Some of his most seminal works are on display, including photos of the artist smashing Han dynasty vases, his marble survelliance cameras, and a stunning display of 1,200 bicycles assembled to fill most of the main exhibition hall. It marks the first exhibition of his work in mainland China.
4 Design like you give a damn
This was an unprecedented year for designers coming out in droves to help aid various causes. The list includes: Maarten Baas‘s Empty Chair with a ladder-back reaching five metres (in support of Amnesty International); Shigeru Ban’s privacy walls for families in Fukushima that were quarantined in gymnasiums for months after the earthquake; and New York art dealer David Zwirner and actor Ben Stiller’s Christie’s auction, Artists for Haiti, which raised a record-breaking $13.7 million.
5 Fogo Island by Todd Saunders
The first studio of Norwegian architect Todd Saunders’ masterful artists’ colony, perched along the shores of Newfoundland, premiered in 2010, and the accolades poured in – including an AZ Award win for Best Commercial Building. But the inaugural structure was the first of six in total. Three more opened last summer, and each one nests into the jagged, windswept landscape like a precious jewel. The final phase of the project – a luxury hotel, also designed by Saunders – should be complete around this time next year.
6 Jack Layton’s chalk memorial at Nathan Phillips Square
In August, Jack Layton, leader of the NDP party of Canada, died of cancer. In the week leading up to his state funeral, thousands of mourners headed to Toronto’s City Hall to write their goodbyes across Nathan Phillips Square’s concrete plaza, in coloured chalk. It was spontaneous, rich and very emotional tribute to a leader who held the rare honour of being both successful and popular.
7 New York Times candle by Tobias Wong
Not all designs-of-note were big affairs. A personal favourite was the June release of Tobias Wong’s New York Times scented candle. The newsprint aroma was concocted by Josée Lepage of Bondtoo and mixes guallac wood and cedar with musk and spices. Refinery29.com described it best: “It’s a concept that’s equal parts a tribute to the Grey Lady and a commentary on the fate of printed media.”
8 Seating by the Bouroullecs
The Parisian brothers unveiled two couches in Milan this spring that tie for best-of-the-year. The soggy soda-cracker look of Ploum was a monster hit at Ligne Roset’s booth, while Established & Sons showed off Quilt, the Thing, a loveseat upholstered in high-tech duotone fabric stretched over generous chunks of styrofoam. The brothers say they were channelling comic book superheroes when they came up with this muscle-man couch.
9 Everything Apple
It’s hard to choose which launch stood out most: the iPhone 4S with its intelligent voice assistance; the razor-thin MacBook Air that barely weighs 1.4 kilos; or the unveiling of the plans for an Apple campus in Cupertino City by Foster + Partners. The donut-shaped headquarters remains cloaked in secrecy but its halo-form alone reflects the 21st century in the same way Bilbao defined the 20th.
10 The Recession Chair by Tjep
With it straight back, hard seat, striped-down aesthetic and half-eaten limbs, the Recession Chair is Dutch designer Frankie Tjepkema‘s response to how little the design world seems to react to the pending economic crisis threatening Europe and the world. Five years ago, the same designer felt compelled to comment on the excesses of western consumerism with an obnoxiously overweight seat called XXL. My, how things can change in five short years.
1 9/11’s new twin
MVRDV’s oversight with The Cloud, a proposed twin tower in Seoul, Korea, is its most distinguishing feature – a bulbous cluster of cubes 27 floors up that look a lot like New York’s Twin Towers mid-explosion. Despite a firestorm of criticism and angry blogs stating the design is, among other things, a cheap media grab, the Dutch firm say they hadn’t noticed the similarities during the design process. The latest word is, financiers Yongsan Development Corporation are going ahead with the project and plan to start construction in January 2013.
2 Fingernail art
The popularity of nail art, due to the proliferation of nail salons and 90-per cent-off Groupon deals, is a miss. Of course, while most designers are more inclined to sport horn-rimmed glasses than flashy polish, Parisian architect Odile Decq remains devoted to black tipped fingers. There are always exceptions.