Back in the 1890s, the architect of Zurich’s Tonhalle could perhaps be excused for not knowing that women would require more toilet facilities than men. Those were the days when men simply did not consider such matters. Thus every time there is concert at the Tonhalle with more than a modest audience, during the pause the queue into the Ladies’ Toilets runs our through the doors.

Over 100 years have passed since the Tonhalle was designed. In the brave new world of the 21st century what have architects learned? Plenty, but little new about the needs of women in public buildings. The world over woman can be observed queuing out through the doors while the men’s toilets remain relatively empty.

Hopefully the new hospice just opened on the Cristallina Pass has the balance right. However, why was a cute old building that was destroyed by an avalanche replaced by a unimaginative block, looking like a factory at the top of the pass?

A local hotel was demolished and is being replaced by a block copied from a child’s Lego set. Nearby, a new development of expensive flats is being built in four identical blocks. Did the architect simply photocopy the first plans three times? How will our great grandchildren rate our architectural heritage in 100 years’ time?

Buildings are not the only thing we cannot design anymore. The personal computer is on every office desk (or under it) and in many homes. Why is it only Macintosh thought of making it look anything other than a grey box and a grey monitor? It seems that having designed the insides, the manufactures were totally disinterested in how it looks from the outside. The same is true with hi-fi where the choice whether to have a silver box or black box. Danish manufactures Bang & Olufsen have built a world-wide business out of hi-fi that looks good. Odd that nobody else thought of that.

Car manufacturers too have brought us decades of forgettable designs. With every new model launched it appears that the designers have not put their heart into it. Is it that accountants and marketing people have reminded the designers that in four years they will have to come up with a more modern design to replace it?

Yet, there are other fields where designers and marketeers do not know when to stop. Milk and orange juice cartons are a fine example. We have all learned to master milk and juices in cardboard cartons where we simply cut or tear off the corner to pour out the liquid. So why do we now need a plastic insert that requires a seal breaking with a thumb - an action that shoots juice up the arm. The plastic opening also traps small drops of juice after pouring and makes it sticky very quickly. Presumably the mixture of plastic and cardboard is also not ideal for recycling either.

Washing powders turned concentrated over ten years ago. Instead of humping a 5 kilo box of washing powder around, the advertisements persuaded us that even the fairer sex could easily carry the new concentrated powder home, where it uses less space. Of course it also uses less space in the factory, warehouse, shop and delivery vehicle. The problem is how many of us use less of the concentrate than before?

Why does a Swiss chocolate manufacturer, whose factory is less than 5 kilometres from my local supermarket, sell part of its range in that same supermarket that is made in Canada?

At the cinema why are sweets and popcorn sold in plastic bags that make such a noise? And while thinking about the cinema, why in 2003 do they still stop the film for the pause in the middle of a sentence. And why does it start again before everyone has sat down and the lights are still on?

Weather forecasters have more powerful computers than ever before. They have radar and countless satellites beaming down every imaginable image in every spectrum there is. So why do they still say it will rain tomorrow – and it doesn’t?

Who invented the petrol-powered substitute for the good old-fashioned but efficient brush to sweep up leaves? The one powered by a loud petrol engine strapped to the back of the operator that is so noisy the operator needs to wear ear protectors? Can the disagreeable roar of a petrol engine that sends leaves and dust, not to mention exhaust gasses, into the air really be better than a brush?

Speaking of noise: why is it that small motorcycles that go slowly make more noise than faster ones? The power of a motorcycle engine seems in direct reverse proportion the noise it makes. We have a situation where the engine of a small family car carrying 4 people at 50 kph makes less noise that a one-person 50cc moped travelling at 30 kph.

In the 21st century we might have hoped for better – for example, a cure for the common cold at the very least. However, when the perpetrators of the September 11 came from Saudi Arabia and Morocco, you can see how an American-led attack on Iraq in the name of “the fight against terrorism” fits neatly into the upside-down pattern of our new century.