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The new millennium was barely underway when the 9/11 attacks took place, launching the war on terror. But in design and architecture, a spirit of generosity prevailed. Shigeru Ban deployed his traveling museum around the world, OMA reminded us that libraries are vital, Cradle to Cradle established the rules of circular design and social good became a motivator for transformative products. Most game-changing: the technological innovations that reshaped everything.
The elegant conversion of a disused London power station into the Tate Modern in 2000 put the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron on the map. A year later, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron won the Pritzker Prize.
The fires of September 11, 2001 had not been extinguished before George W. Bush and America’s radical right found practical uses for the attack on the United States. It was mobilized as proof of a presumably vast conspiracy against civilization and became the excuse for the long-planned overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. An international “war on terror” was proclaimed. For a moment, the rest of the world listened to America. Then, unsurprisingly, it turned back to more urgent preoccupations: Europe, to its huge experiment in nation-building and China, to its coming domination of the 21st century.
The New Museum
When Daniel Libeskind was selected to design Berlin’s Jewish Museum in 1989, it was the start of his transformation from deconstructivist thinker to superstructure architect. The jagged-shaped museum, pierced by a void that commemorates the presence of absence, attracted more than 350,000 visitors between January 1999 and September 2001, when the building was still empty.
The long-neglected Woodward’s department store in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside got a second life at the beginning of the decade when a then-upstart developer – Westbank, led by Ian Gillespie – took it over and rebuilt it with a mix of market and social housing and business spaces. It cemented Gillespie’s reputation. Meanwhile, New York superstar Karim Rashid arrived on the scene as a Philippe Starck for the new century. His graphic symbols have since found their way onto a plethora of furniture and products.
A New Millennium
When it opened in 2004, Millennium Park in Chicago was over budget and four years behind schedule, but many hail it as the best thing to happen to the city architecturally since it hosted the World’s Fair in 1893. While the park’s crowning glory is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Frank Gehry’s open-air stage featuring dramatic stainless-steel appendages, the 10-hectare site’s single most noteworthy – and selfie-friendly – attraction is Anish Kapoor’s stainless steel “bean,” inspired by liquid mercury.
Techno-gel, titanium and carbon fibre emerged as super-light, strong and flexible materials. Nike used carbon fibre to create bouncier basketball shoes while Marcel Wanders and Bertjan Pot used it to create a carbon copy of the Eames chair. Old materials also took on new guises: For Prada Tokyo (left), which opened in 2003, Herzog & de Meuron created an organic glass palace with Cricursa’s curved, laminated version of the material that requires minimal structural hardware. Around the same time, a novel method of prototyping – 3D printing – took flight. In 2004, French designer Patrick Jouin and Belgian manufacturer .MGX by Materialise debuted the Solid S1 nylon stool (right). 3D printing has since rapidly evolved – it’s now being used to build entire bridges and houses.
Hotel as Destination
One of the tallest hotels in the world, Burj Al Arab – a.k.a. the Tower of the Arabs – rests on its own man-made island in the Persian Gulf, off Dubai. Tom Wright of British-based W.S. Atkins and Partners designed the hotel to resemble a sail; its facade features a double-skinned, Teflon-coated woven glass screen.
The preoccupations of industrial designers were many: Philippe Starck pushed transparent plastic, with his iconic Ghost chair for Kartell; the Bouroullecs played with modularity, creating Clouds out of Kvadrat. Design entered the art world – in 2006, Marc Newson’s Lockheed lounge went for US$968,000 at auction – and tried to save the world. The One Laptop Per Child project, with its bright-green, crank-powered laptop designed by Yves Béhar, symbolized the ambition of the “design for the other 99 per cent” movement.
Milan has long been the design mecca, a locus of product debuts and major personalities. Rossana Orlandi opened her eponymous gallery in 2002, and it became the place to meet the next big talents, from BCXSY and Formafantasma to Nika Zupanc. Recently, she embarked on a mission to get her famous friends to abandon virgin plastics, hopefully setting a long-lasting trend. Also in Milan, entirely new ways of living are often proposed; in 2008, Bulthaup and Eoos presented B2 – the kitchen as workshop (right).
Poetry in Motion
Santiago Calatrava is known worldwide for his lyrical, complex structures that marry engineering and artistry. One of his soaring sculptural forms, the brise soleil at the Milwaukee Art Museum (left) boasts a wing-like sun screen that folds open to shield the building as required. Around this same time, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, today better known for its design of the High Line, was working on its more experimental projects. For Switzerland’s Expo.02, in 2002, the firm designed the vaporous Blur Building – a suspended platform shrouded in a perpetual cloud of fog.
The Big Messages
Austria’s Kunsthaus Graz art museum, designed by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier and completed in 2003, “communicates” through its luminous skin (left). Meanwhile, two important books changed the narrative in design: Architect William McDonough and German chemist Michael Braungart conceived of the Cradle to Cradle design paradigm – which today informs how conscientious manufacturers need to operate – and Richard Florida coined the term the “Creative Class” and explained how its members were making cities more vibrant. One idea still has legs, the other….
A Singular Vision
Gaetano Pesce has been experimenting with polyurethane foam, resin and plastics since the ’60s. Nobody’s Perfect (2002) – a collection of resin tables, chairs and storage units, no two pieces of which are the same – perfectly illustrates the Italian designer’s unconventional use of materials.
A softer aesthetic prevailed: Tord Boontje used advanced technologies to create fanciful pieces including the Until Dawn curtain; it’s made from a strong synthetic paper and is inspired by the intricate, romantic aesthetic of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. In 2001, Marcel Wanders brought baroque back into vogue with the launch of Moooi, a brand designed to “make our most exciting dreams come true”; Animal Thing, designed by Front Studio of Sweden in 2006, features true-to-life-sized animals doubling as furniture. That same year, Ingo Maurer put the first LED table lamp on the market, EL.E.DEE. Its demure profile belied its technological prowess – high-powered, low-energy LEDs would soon be ubiquitous.
The library revival got underway with the much-praised Seattle Central Library in 2004. Designed by Rem Koolhaas and his Rotterdam-based Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the highly intelligent building is sheathed with a grid of diamond-shaped glass. The geometric trend was also strong in furniture: The same year, Konstantin Grcic debuted Chair_One – “a kind of line drawing of a three-dimensional shape,” said the German talent and prolific chair designer.
Efficiency and Poetry
The Vancouver studio Molo invented Softwall, an accordion-like partition system that can expand and contract as needed, in 2005; the flat-pack yet totally ethereal product was added to MoMA’s permanent collection the same year. Eschewing efficiency for enchantment, Patrizia Moroso and Patricia Urquiola’s decade-long collaboration is one of the most powerful partnerships in Italian design. The Antibodi chaise longue, launched in 2006, is “non-upholstered” in circles that splay out along two edges to create the look of flowers in full bloom.
A Singular House
Jim Stewart, the renowned mathematician, hired Shim-Sutcliffe Architects to design him a home like no other. The result, completed in 2009, highlights the Toronto firm’s incredible attention to both grand gestures and the finest details. The 1,672-square-metre interior unfolds with various stepped landings and with balconies facing onto a double-height curved glass wall defined by vertical white-oak fins. Sadly, Stewart passed away in 2014, but not before he was able to host many unforgettable events in his one-of-a-kind home.
Sustainability and Hedonism
In 2008, a year after the publication of “The 100-Mile Diet,” the Young Architects Program selected WorkAC to create an installation at MoMA PS1. Reflecting a growing awareness of sustainable, local food production, the New York studio’s Public Farm 1 (left) featured over 50 biodegradable cardboard tubes that spanned from rooftop to courtyard and contained edible crops. The idea that being good to the earth can be joyous is also at the core of Bjarke Ingels’ work; along with Julien de Smedt, he designed the VM Housing apartment block (right) as part of one of Europe’s most architecturally ambitious urban development plans: Ørstead City in Copenhagen. The thorny balconies, which maximize sun exposure, epitomize Ingels’ notion of hedonistic sustainability.
If there was any doubt about China’s world domination in the first decade of the 21st century, the Summer Olympics in Beijing laid it to rest. The 2008 event unveiled an above-average collection of dramatic buildings, from PTW Architects’ ethereal Water Cube swimming centre clad in droplet-shaped ETFE “pillows” to the Bird’s Nest. The latter, formally called the Beijing National Stadium, was a collaborative project between Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, and its nest-like mass of steel was inspired by cracks in Chinese pottery.
Norman Foster’s Swiss Re building in London, which opened in 2004, reportedly derives its shape, structure and ventilation system from the porous glass sea sponge. It’s also strongly reminiscent of another very particular natural form, leading Londoners to dub the building the Erotic Gherkin. Also evocative of nature, the Aqua building in Chicago, completed five years later, was more than an impressively rippling façade. It was the largest project ever awarded to an American firm headed by a woman: Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects.
Museum on the Move
Shigeru Ban’s Nomadic Museum was originally assembled out of shipping containers in 2005, in New York, as a sustainable travelling museum that could move around the world to different ports of call and be set up quickly and easily (it later went to Santa Monica, Tokyo and Mexico City). It not only sparked a renewed interest in purpose-built temporary structures, it opened up the possibilities of shipping containers as a viable and affordable building option.
A new generation of Japanese designers continues to create mind-blowingly sublime beauty while subverting traditional forms: Oki Sato’s Cabbage chair from 2008, for instance, is formed from discarded paper used while making Issey Miyake’s exquisite pleated fabrics. In 2005, Vancouver designer Omer Arbel also introduced an entirely new idea: the hand-blown glass sphere Bocci 14 (right) could be hung in multiples to create a diffuse chandelier in any kind of interior.
On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs (1955–2011) announced, “Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.” It did more than that. The iPhone and everything that came after marked the beginning of our screen-obsessed lives. While Blackberrys were addictive, the new generation of smartphones – loaded with apps that would engender a whole new digital industry – changed everything.
The New High-Tech
A 45-metre-wide hourglass in steel and glass is the defining feature of Coop Himmelb(l)au’s “customer experience and exhibition facility” for BMW in Munich, completed in 2007. The event space, with its 900-plus glass panels, also functions as the roof support. Another feat of technology: Salone del Mobile’s new home, which was designed by Studio Fuksas and opened in 2005. The fairgrounds comprise a complex of buildings accessed via an elevated and faceted-glass thoroughfare – a milestone for the biggest design show in the world.