March 23, 2012
“Weaponry is rarely a topic of discussion among designers,” writes Chappell Ellison for Good Magazine. “Guns and grenades will most likely never be on display at the Museum of Modern Art, despite the countless designers and engineers involved in creating them.” Though conspicuously absent from the utopian trajectory of design, objects created for conflict have greatly influenced our built environment. In fact, the most enduring material innovations can likely be traced back to some military origin.
Israel’s Iron Dome has no problem being identified as an expression of military force. Having successfully intercepted 60 rockets launched from Gaza just last week, the Iron Dome—a defense system six years in the making—has garnered increased attention. The system is designed to detect and defend against rockets at a range of 4 to 70 kilometers, and with its recent 90 percent success rate, the creators at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems are hoping to woo countries like South Korea, where there is a constant threat of short-range missile fires, to become its newest clients.
Rafael markets its military breakthrough with an illustration of a city encapsulated in a transparent, snow-globe-like dome. But, as Ellison explained for Good Magazine, “the Iron Dome hardly embodies its larger-than-life moniker.” While allusions to the immense, hermetically guarded Death Star may come to mind, the boxy, tan-colored tracking radar units that make the Iron Dome are visually more akin to “a piece of farm equipment you might see in the opening scenes of Star Wars: Episode IV, when Luke sullenly ambles across the horizon of his desert-like planet.”
Nonetheless, the Dome can hardly hide behind its metaphorical name. By deploying $10,000 to $50,000 rockets upon tracking incoming enemy fire, the implementation of the Dome marks a costly shift towards a more active Israeli defense. The Iron Dome is what Ellison calls “a physical manifestation of human conflict,” one that “serves to remind the world of a seemingly endless, painful conflict between two determined factions.” It has undoubtedly saved lives, but it does not, as Rafael’s image suggests, enable civilian life prosper peacefully during wartime.