The significance of iconic designs
Everybody needs a hero, and in the world of aesthetics, iconic design and architecture continue to create environments that impress significantly in our memory. Design icons are created to break through the standard accepted norms of aesthetics and scale, often by organizations or governments that decidedly want to provide a visually significant consumerist space, or stamp their dominance into the physical world’s sociocultural map. Let’s take a look at a few.
• Paris’ Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 as a centerpiece for the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair). Hundreds of workers spent more than two years assembling the steel lattice structure, which meant to be temporary but still standing after being used by the scientific community during its immediate postworld-fair period. Today, it stands as one the most iconic buildings of the modern era.
• Earlier in 1883, Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi took over the design and construction of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona using his modern organic style to create a gothic and textural avant garde structure. The church remains unfinished, with delays credited to the costly and complicated methods used to build it. Unappreciated by many is the organic structural system it employs. It has since become one of Barcelona’s most popular attractions and a testament to the artistic spirit of Barcelona’s very self-expressed community.
• The 2008 Beijing Olympics celebrated the Beijing National Stadium, better known as the “Bird’s Nest”—a symbol of China’s strength and its notable entry into the world of modern high art and design. Despite its current difficulties in attracting sporting events, the stadium is a profitable tourist attraction. Its revolutionary aesthetics and structural systems crowns Beijing as a center of power.
• In the 1970s, the flamboyant First Lady Imelda Marcos commissioned the Cultural Center of the Philippines as a facility for the masses. Its bold “floating” modern brutalist form sits prominently on Roxas Boulevard. To this day, the CCP is still a postcard favorite, along with the more fun beaches and off-the-beaten-track adventures of the Philippines.
• Many months back, the new Zuellig Building was unveiled with much fanfare. It is one of our few full-glass skinned buildings in the metro, with heat-reducing e-glass panels that stretch three meters tall. The façade glazing concept is shared with the new Ground Zero memorial in New York. Precertified as a LEED Gold structure, the building employs sustainable strategies for operational efficiency and declares our arrival into the stage of world-class sustainable office buildings. Furthermore, it reinforces Makati’s status as the country’s premier central business district.
• Earlier this year, Zaha Hadid lashed back at her detractors for their criticism of her design for the 2022 World Cup Al Wakrah Stadium. Conceptualized from the local fishing boat, the Arabian “dhow,” the building is touted to instead look like the female sexual organ when viewed from the sky. Fortunately when it opens, most guests will be coming in by foot and seeing it from ground level. This new monument will probably be—like most Hadid projects—a remarkable one.
But Hadid’s structures have not been without turbulence. Critics have hit on the “design flaws” of her London Aquatics Center, where the sweeping roof obstructs the spectators’ view of the 10-meter-high diving board. This is not unusual of buildings where some functionality is sacrificed to achieve aesthetic perfection. In fact, with almost every iconic structure, costs skyrocket to finance the complexities and experimentations needed for innovation. Some, at the expense of function. Even Apple’s new headquarters, the iconic and minimalist “space ship,” the “One Infinite Loop,” is running $2 billion over budget and we can guess why. And they’re not even halfway done. Big dreams have to come with deep pockets.
Despite the global proliferation of design icons, only a handful of the viewing public can truly appreciate the qualities and characteristics that go beyond face value and exploit both technology and finance for the sake of design advancement.
One of art’s most fundamental precepts is that the significance of the art lies in its viewers’ ability to appreciate it. What could otherwise be seen as capricious spending is probably the crossroads between the ordinary and the exemplary. It is money very well spent when the exemplary ones remain to be appreciated and enjoyed by posterity.
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