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10 Incredible Examples of Amazing Hidden Design Around the World
Subtle design is all around society. Whether accessible pedestrian crosswalks or heated sidewalks, invisible engineering helps make the world go around and keeps people safe. One downside is that many of these feats of genius innovation often go unnoticed by the average person. Here’s a list of 10 incredible examples of hidden design around the world.
10 Australia’s Pedestrian Buttons
The design of crosswalks and traffic lights is often taken for granted, but there’s the brain of an engineer behind all of them. Australia’s engineers came up with an ingenious solution to crosswalk accessibility by designing pedestrian buttons for the hearing and vision impaired. The PB/5 was first commissioned in 1984 by the NSW Department of Main Roads in Australia, which aimed to address the issue of pedestrian safety.
They created a button that uses a two-rhythm buzzer and a vibrating touch panel approach. In contrast, traditional buttons use a bell and buzzer audio signaling features. There’s also a braille direction arrow to help vision-impaired pedestrians. This crosswalk design has helped put an end to unintuitive traffic signals and inconsistent design, giving many non-able-bodied people a safer way to traverse crosswalks. 
9 Tokyo’s Cleverly Designed Disaster Parks
First created in 1923 as a response to the Great Kyoto earthquake, Tokyo’s refuge parks aren’t just there to look pretty; they also function as shelter and survival areas during times of need. They have undergone advanced renovations over the decades, now sporting survival features like solar-powered charging stations, manholes that can be used as emergency toilets, public benches that work as cooking stoves, and much more.
The parks also contain food storehouses and water reservoirs, which hold enough food and water for districts to use for up to 72 hours. Hikarigaoka Park and Nakano Central Park have also integrated a few of these survival features into their own spaces. The Tokyo metropolitan government is currently in the process of building up to 185 acres (75 hectares) of disaster-survival parks within the city while also increasing the number of green spaces.
8 The Netherlands’ “Glow-in-the-Dark Smart Highway”
Driving at night can be pretty dangerous for the average driver, even more so in bad weather conditions. A team of Dutch designers in the Netherlands might have come up with a solution to this problem: glow-in-the-dark smart highways. Created by designer Daan Roosegaarde, these smart highways utilize temperature-sensitive markings, wind indication lights, and induction coils embedded in the lane that can charge electric cars as they drive. This design improves both road safety and environmental friendliness.
The glow-in-the-dark markings use road paint infused with special photoluminescent powder, which can stay bright for up to 10 hours and recharges from sunlight. This is especially good for the Netherlands, as certain areas turn their street lamps off at night to save money. A 16-foot (5-meter) strip of the highway opened on the N329 in Oss in 2014.
7 A Chicago Neighborhood’s Heated Sidewalks
Winters can be pretty brutal, and not just because of the harsh cold either. Snow pileup is a serious problem that plagues many neighborhoods and cities during the season. Chicago is no exception to slippery walkways, which is why the suburb of Oak Park came up with a solution: heated sidewalks. The premise is simple: electric wiring and gas-fed systems are built beneath concrete, which supplies enough heat to the surface to melt away snow and ice, keeping sidewalks dry and slip-free.
These sidewalks have existed in Chicago since the 1970s, starting with LaSalle Street sidewalks. Public reception has been overwhelmingly positive, with residents and businesses citing enormous benefits from not needing to clear snow away from sidewalks and driveways. This led to an increase in customers and pedestrians in the neighborhood. However, not all areas in Oak Park currently have the sidewalks installed, though they may be included in the distant future.
6 Hong Kong’s Sustainable Rooftop Farms
Hong Kong is one of the densest cities on the planet. The crowded urban landscape has to use the little space available in the most efficient way possible just to sustain itself. That’s where rooftop farms come in. Co-created by Andrew Tsui, a co-founder of Rooftop Republic Urban Farming, these rooftop farms are a potential solution to the problem of underutilized spaces in the city. These farms are placed on a few empty rooftops and help grow food for local farmers.
As reported in 2021, over 60 urban farms are located in the city so far, making use of public spaces like shopping mall roofs and antiquated helipads. Fresh produce for local residents and farmers is just one of many benefits here. These farms help improve community relationships through Rooftop Republic’s organized workshops, helping to teach newcomers how to take care of their own rooftop farm. Given that 64.5 million square feet (6 million square meters) of rooftop space go unused in Hong Kong, the full potential of these farms remains untapped.
5 Oslo’s Bee Highway
Bees are one of the most important animals on earth for promoting biodiversity. They help fertilize our crops through pollination, which contributes to plant, tree, and flower growth, something the entire planet depends on. Unfortunately, many bees around the world are endangered due to widescale industrialization and the overuse of pesticides. Oslo, Norway, might have a solution to their bee problem in the form of bee highways.
Bybi, an environmental group, created the project as a way to protect bees and promote pollination. These tall structures are filled with nectar-bearing plants and flowers and serve as a safe route for bees to traverse from plant to plant. Some places like Abel’s Garden have already incorporated these highways for bees, providing a nourishing feeding ground for them. This is important because it is estimated that one-third of Norway’s 200 wild bee populations are endangered. Without these insects, Norway’s biodiversity and agriculture are under threat.
4 Rotterdam’s Water Squares
Cities often have to deal with the problem of unused space not being adequately utilized. The city of, Rotterdam might have a solution to this problem. Rotterdam has to constantly deal with heavy flooding caused by rainfall, which made the Rotterdam City Council come up with the idea of constructing rainwater storage systems on the surface. It is much cheaper to build water tank reserves on the surface instead of underground, making it far more attractive from a tax-paying perspective.
Three constructed water squares, or Waterplein, have two functions: recreation and reserve. When the rain is out, they fill up, collecting rainwater for preservation. When it’s not raining, they remain empty, acting as recreation areas for sports, like basketball and skating, and can even operate as an amphitheater. This solution not only seamlessly meshes with everyday human life and nature but is also sustainable.
3 Seoul’s Smart Lamps
While street lamps provide a vital service in illuminating the streets in the darkness, many of them could have further utility. Seoul has pounced on this opportunity by introducing new street lamp functionality via smart lamps. These smart poles go beyond simple lighting, providing both Wi-Fi connectivity and electricity to nearby residents. People are able to charge their phones, drones, and even electric vehicles with one of these poles.
As of 2021, Seoul had as many as 26 smart poles installed in six areas of the city. This number is expected to increase over the years. These poles also include CCTV cameras, which can help with security concerns and discovering would-be crimes. The smart lamps help increase access to the internet within the country via free Wi-Fi access. Even more, features are planned for these poles in the near future.
2 Japan’s Space-Saving Underground Bike Vaults
While bicycling remains a popular transportation in many cities around the world, common issues like bike theft and bicycle storage remain pressing concerns. Japan might have addressed these problems with an ingenious solution: underground bike storage. The tech company Eco-Cycle developed these bike vaults, which operate as kiosk structures at street level. This subterranean parking space houses bikes 40 feet (12 meters) below the surface, stacking hundreds of bikes together in neat rows.
Each cyclist gets a unique IC Tag smart card, a locator device that can recall bikes in seconds. Once the card is swiped at the check-in booth, the bicycle is pulled up from the vault in a timely fashion. The vault protects bikes from weather conditions, earthquakes, and common theft, only costing $25 a month to use, which makes it far more affordable than most car parking spaces in Tokyo. So far, the bike vaults have attracted plenty of popularity in the city and are seeing frequent use.
1 The Netherlands’ Underground Trash Collection
Trash collection in some countries is a messy, laborious process. In America, for example, large garbage cans are filled and left on the street for collection. The Netherlands takes a different approach, putting garbage collection entirely underground. Trash containers are connected to an easy-to-use receptacle shoot above ground for residents to put their trash into, which then falls down below into the storage bins underground. Think of the system like an iceberg, with only a small portion of the trash system visible on the surface.
This system carries enormous benefits to it. First and foremost, trash is completely protected from wildlife that may tamper with it. In some places like North America, trash tampering by wildlife—and often people—is fairly common, making trash collection a huge hassle for workers and residents alike. Another added benefit is that anyone can use these bins at any time, eliminating the need to haul trash cans filled to the brim every week. These bins are collected by special garbage trucks designed to uproot the trash storage from underground and empty it out cleanly.