Insight: World’s leading car designers on future, sustainable design

Head of Maserati design Klaus Busse and the MC20

I’ve been speaking with a number of senior creatives in the car world lately. My interest is in understanding how various brands are navigating their way to the new electric and autonomous age of the automobile. Like many, I am hugely excited to see a genuine shift in attitude, even among the more conservative makers. And I’m eager to see how designers are responding to change – if they are willing to radically rethink car design.

In the last few months alone, most of the major makers have set out their net zero plans, and we are now beginning to see and drive products designed and engineered purely for electric drive. What has become clear though is that this first wave of clean(er) powered transport are not revolutionary in design. The radical approach I was hoping for may happen along the journey once makers and users ease into electric drive.

That said, my fear is that collectively car companies will become too comfortable in this interim phase – that they will see enough profit not to push for real change. Yet, electric drive offers a golden opportunity for the design community to lead the way in expressing a whole new form of transport – possibly find a new form language that can explore the car’s larger societal responsibilities. Surely there is so much excitement in this.

On that note, happy Spring and happy Nowruz – to a new day and all its possibilities.

Read what some of the main car designers are saying: Maserati head of design Klaus Busse, Polestar’s Thomas Ingenlath, Volvo’s head of design Robin Page, maverick car designer Chris Bangle, BMW Group vice president of design Adrian van Hooydonk, Daimler’s creative boss Gordon Wagener and VW Group’s design director Klaus Bischoff.

London Design Museum to relocate with new ambitions

The Design Museum has announced it will open in its new home in west London on 24 November 2016. The building in Kensington overlooks Holland Park and is the result of a £83m transformation of the 1960s listed former Commonwealth Institute building.

The new space is three times the size of the current Bermondsey site. The three floors will house three galleries, a library and learning centre, two events spaces, an auditorium for talks and seminars, a café, restaurant, shop, film studio and offices. It promises to be a small scale institution dedicated to design.

When the Design Museum originally opened in 1989, London was a very different place. Discussions on design were in their infancy, even here in the capital city. The brainchild of Sir Terrance Conran and Stephen Bayley, the Design Museum of the 1980s was hugely radical. It elevated the status of design to be (almost) on par with fine art, and initiated a much needed discourse on the subject. Soon a few universities began teaching Design History as an undergraduate course, which incidentally is where I ended up. These were exciting times.

Much has changed since then, not just in London but throughout the country. There is a higher awareness of design amongst the general public helped by retail outlets like Ikea. Copies of mid-modern classics, mostly terrible, can now be purchased on most high streets, and many of these pioneering designers are now household names.

So what is the role of a Design Museum in a world where design is seemingly everywhere? To start with, the new premise will allow for more diverse ways of communication. The directors are thus planning a challenging programme that encourages new work and new thinking. The museum director Deyan Sudjic wants the space to act as a bridge between the V&A and the Science Museum – both only a stone-throw-away.

Encouragingly, the V&A has in the last decade or so successfully shed its dusty association with ‘old art’ to be a hugely dynamic space running some inspired exhibitions that challenge the separation of the various art and design groups and ‘isms’.

This fantastic building has become a hang-out for families on weekends, the likes of me can be spotted during the week tapping away on the laptop in the glorious dinning rooms, or outside in the sunny courtyard, and on some Fridays when it keeps its doors open late, the V&A transforms into a vibrant social space.

Here you can appreciate the Italian renaissance art, admire Asian pottery, be dazzled by crown jewels and experience the avant-garde world of Alexander McQueen in a highly interactive digital space all in one afternoon. The V&A encourages curiosity – it never force-feeds the viewer and this is a rare trait amongst often sterile art institutions.

So, it will be interesting to see how the Design Museum will evolve in its new home, and what it can offer that is an alternative to the V&A. Sudjic promises a more interactive space saying, ‘the touring, digital and publications programme will take the message around the world.’ He also says the museum ‘will nurture new generations of designers and continue its history of recognising and supporting emerging design talent.’

The Design Museum’s inaugural exhibition gives the impression they’re on the right track. Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World, features a series of newly commissioned installations, promising to be an insight into our hopes and doubts about the pace and impact of change.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read reviews of some of the more intriguing V&A recent exhibitions: What is Luxury?, Alexander McQueenRussian Avant-Guard Theatre: War, Revolution and Design, 1913-1933Double Space for BMW – Precision and Poetry in Motion.

Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
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Mobility examined at Milan Design Week

Up until a few years ago the automotive world came to Salone del Mobile Milano as spectators. The week is dedicated to product and industrial design; the venue acts as a platform for discourse on design and speculative debate. It isn’t meant to be a stage for showcasing new cars.

With more and more car companies participating now, what is the right way, the correct etiquette, when it comes to exhibiting in Milan? Unveiling a car is definitely not the right approach, and designing objects that directly reference the cars also lacks imagination.

Instead, the concentration of designers, architects, artists and critics gathered here from all around the world provides the perfect space for a dialogue on urgent matters namely the state of mobility, and the role of the automobile for future generations.

This year BMW, MINI, Lexus, Mazda, Hyundai and Ford exhibited in Milan, and how they chose to be seen by the wider creative world speaks volumes.

Ford played it safe, showing a range of products based on its latest GT supercar including a boat, guitar and table football, whilst Mazda took a similar assignment to a higher level examining its underlying design philosophy through non-car objects.

BMW and MINI initiated dialogues on the future of mobility, albeit with varying results. Hyundai looked at how a financial company can connect with the art world by turning spending into a sensory experience, and Lexus opted for a fully conceptual study that took on the universe and the meaning of life.

We start our journey at Mazda. The Hiroshima marque operates under the guidance of Kodo, a design philosophy rooted in old Japan, one that expresses the values of intricate craftsmanship – playing with contrasts and what director of design Ikuo Maeda refers to as Rin (self-restrained dignity) and En (alluring sensuality). Here the marque has worked with a variety of artisans to interpret Kodo through non-car objects (see images above).

Skilled Japanese artisans contribute crafted objects using ancient methods. It is fascinating watching these two objects come to life – the sheer amount of work, the patience and the passion that almost injects life force into these static objects. The lacquerware vase appears to have trickling tears. It is a pure work of art. ‘There is something very spiritual in the way they work,’ admits the design director.

The sofa, coffee table and bicycle are concerned with creative engineering and a more European approach to problem solving. The sofa is elegant and long – so long that it took the European team lead by Kevin Rice some time to find ‘a cow big enough to provide a single sheet of leather’ he jokes. The foam needed to be milled in a way that even the Italian furniture makers responsible found challenging. Underneath, the structure is made of red wood and the natural untreated red from the wood reveals itself on occasion, subtly without show.

These one-off objects are about creative engineering – they celebrate the art of creation, the skill, the journey, the people, the process – so rooted in old Japan.

Next we visit MINI who commissioned Spanish artist and designer Jaime Hayon to examine mobility in Urban Perspectives through the Citysurfer, the company’s foldable electric kick scooter concept (see images above).

Hayon’s Citysurfers are embellished with colour and texture. He explains that coming from the world of art allowed him the mental freedom to explore mobility, in what he says is his accent. He wanted to ‘create something more inspirational in terms of graphics and colour; give the object a more fantastical look’.

And they certainly look so, especially in Hayon’s ‘urban jungle’ – a cityscape of bold colours and shapes, of streets made of thick slabs of white marble, dots to direct the flow of traffic, giant copper street lamps, oversized helmets.

BMW has also used the occasion of Milan to address driving patterns in the future, albeit in a more quite manner. Here Zurich-based designer Alfredo Häberli re-evaluates future mobility in Spheres Precision & Poetry in Motion at a highly conceptual level (see images above).

Häberli believes ‘silence, space and time’ are what will constitute luxury in the future – that luxury is beyond the material dimension. His journey begins with childhood memories, sketches and formal studies. It ends with a large-scale model, a wonderfully dinosaurian 10-meter teak sculpture that resembles the skeleton of an old ship discovered at the very bottom of the ocean.

This isn’t about finding an appropriate form – instead the designer has created an associative world that lends new meaning to the luxury of mobility.

Häberli has looked at architecture, urban planning – roads expand into the skies, they wiggle around one another with no clear direction, the journey itself becoming the focus. Cities are built on sea, in the skies – it is a world of movies such as Gattaca and Fifth Element.

Karim Habib, head of BMW design, explains the project. ‘For Alfredo mobility in the future is beyond cars, beyond aeroplanes. He has visions of how cities can be. It is more about flying, coasting, gliding,’ he says as he directs me to a white abstract vessel that is a boat, a glider, a spaceship rolled in one.

The wall displays sketches and drawings, a moodboard of Häberli’s visions for the cities of the future. Habib says, ‘the idea of flying cars has been present for so long, there is something beautiful and positive about it.’

He notes such projects will impact on BMW on an abstract level. ‘It feeds into the act of automated driving. You see for a brand that has been associated with driving, what are the challenges and equally opportunities?’

Here roads are three-dimensional, and the vessels are not about dynamic driving but enjoying the experience from A to B, and the silence makes driving more like gliding – the experience is like a sailboat.

Autonomous cars can free the driver to take to the wheel only when they want– when it is a pleasurable experience. ‘Our job as designers is to create an environment for when you’re not driving,’ says Habib before adding with a genuine smile, ‘I’m super happy to be working in a time when we can do all this.’

The Milan automotive journey ends at Lexus where we embark on an exciting sensory experience that involves design and food. The theme in A Journey of Senses is the cycle of life – rain drops, nature, and earth – delicately directed by designer Philippe Nigro‘s latticework cocoons and Japanese chef Hajime Yoneda’s experimental tasters (see images above).

The theme here is the Lexus ‘inside-out’ design philosophy whereby driver experience is placed at the centre, and we are very much lead by chef Yoneda’s vision that challenges us to enjoy rain, love nature and be grounded by returning to the beginning of life.

We consume ‘raindrops’ made out of sparkling candy, that tickle and crackle releasing a refreshing sensation as we watch the illusion of falling rain in a darkened room. We experience nature inside out, as we stumble into a space much like the inside of a giant tree trunk, pop a ball of cacao butter wrapping, the aroma of fresh, verdant greenery washing over our senses.

Our journey concludes in the beginning of life where we are enjoy a bowl of delicious ‘earth soup’ composed of the essence of vegetables, meat and fish whilst taking in the universe with its twinkling stars in the peace of darkness.

Nigro calls it a ‘playground for adults’ where contrasting material and textures, metallic mesh, soft transparent fabrics, blond untreated wood – ‘surprise the visitor’. Crucially, he notes, his modular structure will be dismantled at the end of the week and used for other purposes.

Yoneda says he has created a space that will calm the nerves, a concept that is fundamental to the car of the future. ‘Joy has to be in everything we design and experience’ and this, he says, ‘is to return to the beginning to earth.’

There is a growing concern that Milan is turning into a marketing operation with too many straightforward product launches. The main fairground at Rho certainly feels so. With designers Jasper Morrison nicknaming it ‘Salone del Marketing’, and Hella Jongerius launching her ‘Beyond the New’ manifesto attacking it for being a ‘cornucopia of pointless products and commercial hype’, it seems that all within the design community at large need to carefully examine their exhibits at Milan.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read our report in Wallpaper* Modern mobility, Salone drives a new definition of car creativity.

Read our previous Milano Salone del Mobile reports here.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
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Notes from Salone del Mobile Milan

Design lovers flocked to Milan earlier this month for Salone del Mobile, the world’s most significant design fair that also marks the unofficial start of the design season. The main event at Fiera Milano is definitely worth a visit, but it is away from the crowded exhibition hall that some of the more exciting events take place. Pockets of Milan come alive during the week with designers and artists from all around the world exhibiting a mix of critical and avant-garde, fun and frivolous work. Milan’s old districts, with their elegant and slightly crumbling buildings, sit in contrast forming a perfect setting for the contemporary work on show.

Palazzo Clerici, in the heart of Milan’s bohemian Brera Quarter, hosted a number of events to respond to this sumptuous former residence and frescos by famed Italian painter Tiepolo. Taking over the first floor of the palace, Islands by London design studio Raw-edges offers a new take on a variety of domestic spaces. Working with materials firm Caesarstone the exhibits propose to reshape the typical interior arrangement by positioning the working surfaces as the binding element of its design. The main focus is on the kitchen and the significance of the preparation of food for surfaces that respond more to our emotional needs.

Work With Me People III by Bart Hess is both fun and intriguing, inviting the audience to take part in creating the Dutch artist’s other-worldly materials – in this case rubber. Hess worked with MU art to create a mock-laboratory replete with protection masks and rubber gloves. His futuristic materials and textures are designed to push the boundaries of textile design.

Meanwhile Studio Minale-Maeda showed Keystones. It reduces the design of furniture to a single compact connector, which can be 3D printed on location so that only the most essential part of the furniture needs to be shipped.

By Porta Genova, another old Milan district hosting the fair, carmaker Mini revealed Parallels, a visually absorbing light and sound installation. Collaborating with London-based art and design collective United Visual Artists, it sets out to explore the interaction between man and machine. Parallels is a conceptual take on Mini Connected, the company’s latest in-car infotainment system that links the car to the driver, home and office with the interface feeding information silently through colour coded circles of light.

In Milan UVA explores connectivity also through light. Rings, fixed to the wall a meter apart, project a tunnel of light to create cylindrical bodies of light. We enter the installation, walk amongst and inside these light tunnels to experience the quite magical atmospheric world they create. The cylinder uses motion sensors to engage us in interactive dialogue, and our movements trigger feedback in the form of changes in colour – from diamond white via turquoise to a forceful dark blue – and sound effects.

Around the corner Turkish Stones worked with designers from Turkey, Italy and Japan for Marble Across Time. Using natural stone, this is a choreographed journey through time that begins in Turkey, passes through Italy as the symbol of contemporary society and ends in Japan as a place of progress.

Here Aziz Sariyer addresses the past with an allegorical kaleidoscope to keep visitors at a distance so that the past becomes a memory. ‘Past time is indeed the integrity of all the moments lived,’ says the Turkish designer of his Passage installation where ‘the mind, perceives the integrated moments as past time.’

Fabio Novembre’s Here I Am represents the now. ‘I live, I love, I’m happy. Present is not only a tense, in many languages it’s also meant as a gift. Live your present, the sky is the limit,’ says the Italian architect and designer. And Yoshioka Tokujin’s marble plate concludes the journey. A table of the Universe balances hanging between thin acrylic bands. The Japanese artist and designer describes it as a massive stone that has been freed from gravity and is free, floating in the air

Salone del Mobile runs from the 8-13 April at venues throughout Milan. Read about Lexus at the show here.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read our previous reports from Salone del Mobile Milan

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK 
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design

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Designed in China

How do you change the perception of ‘made in China’ to ‘designed in China’? Chinese contemporary art is currently the focus of intense interest in western Europe, so why not Chinese design? Two exhibitions in London aim to rectify this. Unfolding Landscape, at Sotheby’s in London, which finished last week, exhibited work for sale by graduates from Beijing’s prestigious design school, The China Central Academy of Fine Arts.

Across town in west London, Liliane Fawcett has curated China Design Today at her Notting Hill gallery Themes and Variations. It features a number of commissions made in collaboration with Chinese designers of the post-Mao generation.

Fawcett has gathered designers that reveal very different approaches to what constitutes Chinese design. On her travels to China in search of designers she found a mix of avant-garde, computer-generated work that was almost rejecting its ancient Chinese roots and others who incorporates local Chinese traditions into their work.

China Design Today at her Notting Hill gallery Themes and Variations until December 8, 2012.

Read our review of Ai Weiwei’s Serpentine Pavilion here.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | | | Published by Banksthomas

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