Market, homes for elderly and hospital vie for design award

The Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress, the London 2012 Olympic torch and a spaceport in New Mexico are among this year’s candidates for the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year award.

The prize was first awarded in 2008 and has operated in the shadow of global economic uncertainty ever since. However, this year’s list features surprisingly strong entries from architecture – a field badly affected by the economic downturn – as well as product design, fashion, graphics and transport.

The stand-out nominations include UK architect John McAslan’s meticulous restoration of Port-au-Prince’s 19th-century Iron Market following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. More understated but equally intelligent is Sergison Bates’ housing for the elderly, Huise Zingem in Belgium, and Mass Design Group’s hospital in Butaro, Rwanda.

The more extravagant end of the spectrum is represented by Hopkins Architects’ sleek London Velodrome, Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House and Foster & Partners’ Spaceport America, a manta-ray shaped terminal for commercial spaceflight situated in the harsh heat of the New Mexico desert.

The house of Alexander McQueen – who died in 2010 – is prominent in the fashion category, with Sarah Burton’s royal wedding dress for the label and the stunning “Savage Beauty” exhibition staged at New York’s Metropolitan Museum strong contenders.

The graphics category – which threw up the 2009 winner, Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster for Barack Obama’s US presidential campaign – features Dalton Maag’s clean new font for Nokia alongside a book on the posters of the Paris riots of 1968 by John Morgan and Pierre le Hors.

Products selected include Barber and Osgerby’s perforated Olympic torch and the Jawbone Jambox wireless speaker designed by Yves Béhar – who won the inaugural prize with his One Laptop Per Child project and is the only designer to have featured in every subsequent year’s longlist.

But with economic travails continuing to guide designers away from extravagant vanity projects and into the realm of the useful as well as beautiful, perhaps the stand-out product comes from Massoud Hassani, the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate.

Born in Afghanistan, Mr Hassani has developed a low-tech device for exploding the mines that litter his homeland after decades of conflict. Based on a traditional toy – a ball of straws blown by the wind – he created the device from bamboo with a GPS system to track and map its progress and clear paths through danger areas.

Finally, the transport category embraces designs as diverse as Boeing’s huge 787 Dreamliner aircraft and New York-based Manifesto Architecture’s ingenious design for a vertical bike storage system that turns blank walls into rotating cycle storage racks, transforming the architecture as it does.

The overall winner will be announced at the Design Museum on April 24.

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