More Than Meets The Eye: Impactful Designs Around The World

From changing public perceptions to building communities and improving access to public services, these projects from around the world show how excellent design, more than just making things look good, creates an impact on people’s everyday lives.
On their way to Krumbach, Architecten de Vylder Vinck Taillieu, a trio of Belgium architects, was inspired by the triangular shapes of the Alpine mountains and Sol LeWitt geometrical drawings.
(Left) Krumbach’s picturesque scenery led Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto to take on a philosophical approach and design a forest-like bus stop sans shelter that also functions as a village landmark.
(Right) Noticing how the locals stack oak planks to dry in their workshops, Spanish architecture firm Ensamble Studio created a bus stop with untreated wood that will age and emit a smell specific to its location.
Noticing how the locals stack oak planks to dry in their workshops, Spanish architecture firm Ensamble Studio created a bus stop with untreated wood that will age and emit a smell specific to its location. 

Waiting in style

In the Austrian village of Krumbach, public buses come only once every hour. But fret not if you miss one – you can spend your time admiring Krumbach’s one-of-a-kind bus shelters instead. To boost tourism to this rural town of just over 1,000 residents, seven famous international architects were invited to work with local craftsmen to transform these everyday waiting platforms into attractions. From a wooden tower offering views of the village to a forest of columns with a winding staircase to nowhere, waiting for a bus has become a wee bit more pleasurable thanks to the imaginative architects who got to holiday at the village in exchange.


Gaining worldwide currency

Passports and currency are everyday national documents that citizens often don’t give a second look to. But Norwegians and the world were captivated last year by Norway’s beautifully redesigned passport and currency, following a government design competition. The new passport, drafted by Neue design agency, has pages illustrated with a picturesque Norwegian landscape. Under ultraviolet light, the pages transform to show the Northern Lights that streak across the country’s night skies. For the new face of Norway’s currency, the government picked Snøhetta Design’s abstract pixelated imagery of the country’s coast to complement the more conventional sea-themed illustrations by Metric System on the other side, which reflect Norway’s nautical heritage.

The “half-finished” houses come with extra space that residents can develop later on their own when their families expand.

Building a home together

Faced with a tight budget, architecture firm ELEMENTAL did not complete its designs for a social housing programme in Chile. But their “half-finished” homes in the shantytown of Quinta Monroy were actually the Chilean studio’s innovative solution to house families on the same land where they had illegally lived for years. Instead of moving the families to another neighbourhood or building conventional apartment towers, ELEMENTAL created basic houses with extra space for expanding families. Residents then build upon this skeletal design with their own resources, contributing to complete social housing whose value increases over time.

Studio Dumbar created a colour palette and worked with type designer Peter Verheul on a new typeface designed exclusively for the Dutch government.

One Identity to rule them all

Navigating bureaucracy can be confusing. Just try the Dutch government, which has 175 institutions and ministries – each having its own identity. To help the public recognise every one of them as part of the Netherlands’ national government, Dutch design agency Studio Dumbar created a visual identity in 2009 to encompass them all. The result: A blue logo stamped with the well-known Dutch coat of arms, two custom typefaces that are more space efficient, and a set of layouts to guide the use of the identity system. This new look was applied over two years across a range of assets from buildings to identity cards that eventually presented the government as one organisation to Dutch citizens.

(From left) A manhole lid in Nankou, Osaka, depicts a pagoda among blossoms. In Hokkaido, Japan, manhole covers feature squids, and the Old Public Hall within star-shaped Fort Goryokaku in Hakodate. 

Beautiful Cover-Ups

Cities typically don’t show off their sewage systems. But in Japan, they are a source of local pride because of their beautiful designs. Adorning manhole covers along the country’s streets is local imagery such as cartoon squids in Hokkaido and a samurai from Tochigi Prefecture. Turning these utilitarian lids into works of art was the idea of a construction ministry bureaucrat, who wanted to raise public acceptance for a costly, underground sewer system being built in the 1980s. Despite costing up to 5% more than standard covers, the custom lids are now found almost everywhere in Japan. Cities, towns and villages created the manhole designs to have local appeal, but they have since become global attractions, with websites and books dedicated to this unique Japanese art!

    Mar 18, 2015
    Justin Zhuang
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