The Dead Prize: Our Nominees for Design Gone Wrong

By Jody McCutcheon

If it’s true that we learn most from our mistakes, then we all should get acquainted with the Dead Prize for its potential as a great educational tool. Imagine something like the Darwin Awards, only for design instead, but without the cheeky, Letterman-esque smirk associated with being among the “in” (or “still-alive”) crowd.

Simply put, the Dead Prize aims to shame the very worst and least sustainable in design. Brainchild of Architecture for Humanity co-founder Cameron Sinclair states it’s not a plain old beauty pageant that censures “ugly,” nor is it a declaration of a project’s success or failure. It’s meant, rather, to shine the spotlight on individuals and companies whose designs, unintentionally or otherwise, harm the planet and/or its inhabitants. All detrimental design bears equal culpability in the eyes of the Dead Prize, whether well-designed things with terrible purposes, like weapons; well-designed things with good purposes but terrible side effects, like cars and airplanes; or just plain, poorly designed stinkers, like sprawling, concrete housing projects that people would sooner walk away from than live in.

Nor is the recognition merely a putdown for putting down’s sake, like the Golden Raspberry Awards (or Razzies) that acknowledge the worst film performances. Instead, the Dead Prize aspires to be a mechanism for analyzing mistakes–to understand how and why they occur, and how to correct them moving forward. In such self-absorbed times, the humbleness behind the idea is breathtaking, the idea of owning up to mistakes for the sake of improvement almost atavistic.

With all the awards and recognition bestowed upon the best of human accomplishments, the Dead Prize is a means of contrast, balance, by highlighting the worst. The responsibility of separating also-ran nominations from finalists falls to a panel of jurists selected from fields of design, education, health and media. Thus far, the majority of entries have come from the UK, the US and Brazil.

Nominations fall into the categories of Buildings (e.g., Olympic villages), Infrastructure (coal or diesel plants, Berlin Wall), Objects (plastic bags and bottles, leaded petrol), Weapons (guns, Agent Orange) and Others (GMO’s, mortgage-backed securities, clothing manufacturers that condone hazardous working conditions for employees). Intriguingly, under the Others category, the Dead Prize itself has been nominated, as has the creator Sinclair.

The nomination process began in August, and it’s open to the general public, with entries taken exclusively through the Twitter account @deadprize. The nomination window closes 1 November 2014. Finalists will be announced in early December, with the winner (winners?) being declared some time in early 2015.

The top jury will consist of a panel of architecture, engineering and design experts. Being a winner of the Dead Prize would certainly carry some ignominious baggage, but a silver lining exists. Funding permitting, the organizers hope to launch a campaign to work one lucky flawed design through to a solution. It may be the only time in life where the worse you do, the better your chances of eventual success. Not exactly something to strive for.

Our Nominees

Toronto ´s City Council

This once quaint, livable city has been enveloped by monstrous over-construction. Trees have been chopped down, wiping colour and fresh air from the city, which is now so overpopulated that traffic jams are the norm. Toronto ´s formerly charming warehouses, previously renovated into spacious lofts, have now been knocked down in favour of generic tower blocks–some so poorly constructed that the glass has toppled out of window panels. Luckily, no one has been injured yet, but there can be no doubt that Toronto ´s soul has been brutally murdered by bad architecture.

Traditional Toronto. Image: Wikicommons
New Toronto being (over) constructed. Image: Wikicommons

Fendi’s Karlito Key Fob

Ok, it may not be architectural, but how many animals died to make just one of this ridiculous, ugly and overpriced pieces of uselessness? Well, the sunglasses are made from a dead mink; the  tie is in nappa leather; the body is made of silver fox and the tuft above the pony tail is thanks to a dead goat. Sadly,  over 600 fools have signed up to a waiting list to buy this sad example of silly product design.

Photo: Fendi

The ‘Walkie Talkie’ Building, London

Rafael Vinoly, the Uruguayan architect, doesn’t seem to learn. Three years ago, guests at a hotel he designed complained of burns from a ‘death ray’ of sunlight caused by his design. And now, he’s created a rather ugly building in the City of London which not only resembles a sore thumb, but is also a pyrotechnic disaster. Sunlight reflected off its concave facade has actually melted metal on cars! If they couldn’t at least make it attractive, it’s a shame Vinloy and the developers responsible for the project at 20 Fenchurch Street couldn’t have thought of harnessing the sun’s energy to make the building sustainable.

20 Fenchurch St. Image: Wikicommons

Dubai’s Climate Controlled City

An entire city under a dome. What could be more unnatural and less sustainable?  The project, called  Mall of the World, would potentially allow people  to avoid stepping outside for weeks at a time. Don’t even get us started.

Photo: Dubai Holdings

Anything Monsanto Touches

If there is one evil corporation operating on this planet that supersedes all others it has to be the Monsanto Corporation. This company genetically manipulates plants and animals; makes deadly herbicides and pesticides; patents seeds and breeding techniques (making farmers pay every time they use them) and lobbies governments to sell their toxic products, despite public protests.

The chemicals and genetically modified organisms within Monsanto’s products are found to be having an impact on not only the farming community, but the general quality and safety of the food being produced and subsequently the health of the consumers.

Researchers are only now discovering that Monsanto’s  GMOs are  having a disastrous impact on both the environment and animals that consume them. Not only are the altered foods showing to be a possible carcinogen, but rats fed a diet of Monsanto GMO corn are showing kidney and liver failure.  Who knows what other disasters will come as a result of this company’s greedy manipulation of our food systems?


Main image: Dubai Holdings


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1 thought on “The Dead Prize: Our Nominees for Design Gone Wrong”

  1. Great article, and I especially agree with your Toronto post. One of the worst cities in the world as it resembles a typical cloned American city.

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