The decade-old “Doomsday Vault,” despite its infamous leakage due to major design flaws and “use only in case of Armageddon” intent, has had more global impact than far better-known breakthroughs such as Google, Star Wars, the iPod, Paris Fashion Week, Boeing 747 and the International Space Station, according to a group ranking the 50 most influential projects of the past 50 years.
The list released Tuesday by the Project Management Institute to commemorate its 50th anniversary, states the Svalbard Global Seed Vault ranks 10th “for building the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply.” While projects such as the World Wide Web (first), Apollo 11 (second), Human Genome Project (fifth) and Prius (seventh) ranked ahead of the vault, it finished far above others such as Walt Disney World and Wikipedia.
“There’s a reason they call it the doomsday vault,” the institute wrote, referring to the popular nickname that many scientists and designers associated with the vault dislike. “Buried deep inside an Arctic mountain in Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was built to safeguard the world’s food inventory, no matter what Mother Nature or other forces throw at it. Earthquakes, war, floods, even the dreaded malfunctioning freezer. It doesn’t matter.”
While that’s the intent of the vault that opened in 2008, reality proved somewhat different since the facility had to undergo a just-completed massive renovation of the entrance and surrounding hillside that cost nearly three times as much as building the vault itself (which the institute notes at the end of its narrative). The work was necessary because the rapid onset of climate change prevented the permafrost from refreezing as scientists expected only a few years earlier, resulting in water leakage into the entrance that, among other things, knocked out a power transformer.
But despite the design flaws – and popular perception it’s the “new Noah’s Ark” in the event of a catastrophe on a scale such as nuclear war – the vault is already proving its usefulness, the institute notes.
“Although the vault is built to last at least 200 years, the benefits aren’t limited to some distant dystopian future,” the narrative states. “The first seed retrieval from the vault happened just seven years after its completion. Conflicts in Syria had threatened a seed bank in Aleppo, so its research team withdrew seeds from the Svalbard vault to establish two new regional seed banks in Lebanon and Morocco.”
The institute calls itself “the world’s leading association for those who consider project, program or portfolio management their profession.” Its 50 most influential list includes a wide range of project types both well-known (i.e. Euro, Netflix, Alexa) and obscure (M-Pesa, Aadhaar, Curitiba BRT).
“This is very gratifying and confirms the important role the seed vault has as a worldwide insurance for food supply to future generations, and an ever-growing population,” Olaug Bollestad, Norway’s Minister of Food and Agriculture, said in a prepared statement.
The top 20 most influential projects, according to the institute:
1. World Wide Web
2. Apollo 11
3. Intel 4004
5. Human Genome Project
6. Singles Day
8. Live Aid
10. Svalbard Global Seed Vault
11. Netflix Streaming
12. DynaTAC 8000x
14. Paris Fashion Week
15. Burj Khalifa
16. Walt Disney World
17. Google Search
18. Belt and Road Initiative