BMW has revealed the iX, an electric production car for 2021 which previews the marque in the new age of transport. I caught up with Adrian van Hooydonk, senior vice president BMW Group design, who explains the progressive design and pioneering technology behind this flagship car. He discusses the possibilities of reinventing the marque in the post-Covid era. Read my exclusive interview here.
An exciting new company has launched on Kickstarter. Sonoma-USA’s mission is to turn waste into usable products, and it has captured the zeitgeist. The Californian apparel manufacturer will divert used materials from the landfill, transforming them into unique, individual and exciting products – accessories such as bags and totes. Sonoma-USA is about reuse, it is about upcycling and using the imagination to give life back to otherwise lost materials.
We caught up with Steffen Kuehr, founder and CEO of the company, to find out more.
This is a very exciting project with a hugely relevant philosophy behind it. What mission do you wish to accomplish with Sonoma-USA?
I’d like to bring more sustainable textile and apparel manufacturing back to the US, to create valuable skilled jobs here in Sonoma County and help divert materials from the landfill to make sure we don’t turn our beautiful rolling hills of Sonoma vineyards into mountains of trash. By partnering with local businesses and engaging the local community we hope to change people’s way of how they look at used materials and start rethinking waste.
You have a pretty diverse background coming to the US from Germany, having lived and worked in London, then in Silicon Valley before joining the Sonoma textile firm BPE-USA six years ago. This sounds like the perfect resume for running Sonoma-USA…
When I came to BPE I had to learn a lot of new things, but it felt very rewarding to make actual, physical products and not just work in the digital, virtual world. Having a marketing and business background certainly helped to bring in new aspects of branding, social media marketing as well as product diversification
How did you come up with the idea for Sonoma-USA?
Over the years I have been collecting a ton of scrap materials and fabric leftovers which are a regular side product of our production process at BPE but also in other local manufacturing businesses. Materials that are already paid for, with often cool patterns that are simply too valuable to throw away – military camo nylon from our knee pad production, fleece and water repellent nylon from our dog raincoat production and a wide range of other fabrics from different contract sewing jobs for different clients.
In addition to those materials we have been experimenting with materials like reclaimed vinyl banners and billboards that usually end up in the landfill as well – and those are very durable and fun materials to work with.
Have you always had a passion for issues surrounding sustainability?
Yes, but my desire to create something better and more meaningful has developed much stronger over the last few years. The passion has grown the more I got involved in the local community and the more I got to know the apparel and textile industry.
Considering the environmental challenges we face, especially with overseas mass production but also in the US where people still live one of the most wasteful lifestyles on the planet, and raising three little kids, I think it’s just not fair to leave the next generations with piles of our trash to clean up.
How involved are you with eco groups?
Sonoma County, where we are based, is very advanced when it comes to environmental awareness and social consciousness. I’m involved in organisations and movements like the Sustainable Enterprise Conference where I was a speaker for the last two years, and we are guided by the principles of the UK-based One Planet Living movement for our manufacturing business.
Besides tracking and monitoring our environmental impact, we also monitor the social impact of our activities on our employees and our local community. To ensure all these aspirations are fully developed in our business model, we are legally structured as a Benefit Corporation and have started the one-year process to become a certified B Corp.
How do you see Sonoma-USA evolving in the future?
I have a pretty big vision of what I want to build moving forward, and the Sonoma-USA brand is only the first step… the low hanging fruit. There are tons of materials such as banners or billboard out there that we can collect from businesses in the local community and transform into unique and purposeful products.
For instance, with one of the businesses we work, Sonoma Raceway, we will take their old banners off their shoulders. They save the money it would have cost them to haul that stuff to the landfill, it frees up valuable storage space, and it contributes to their sustainability efforts since we have already helped them to keep over 2000lbs of banners out of the landfill. On top of that their customers can buy a very unique piece of Raceway history since each product will be one of a kind.
Furthermore, we will donate a percentage of our proceeds from the products made with Raceway materials back to a charity of Sonoma Raceway’s choice, so it is essentially a win-win situation for everyone.
More than sixty three-dimensional architectural models, mock-ups and prototypes by Danish architect BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group dramatically suspend from the second-floor of the National Building Museum’s historic Great Hall. Hot to Cold: an odyssey of architectural adaptation guides visitors on quite a journey, from the scorching heat of the Arabian desert to the unforgiving chill of the Finnish tundra. The idea is to explore the cultural and climatic forces that shape our cities and buildings.
The exhibition looks into the harsh demands of climatic extremes, where architecture is about survival – more about shading from the heat or sheltering from the cold than a visual statement. In contrast, the more temperate environments open scope for culture, politics and legislation to shape the design of buildings.
Founding partner Bjarke Ingels reminds us that architecture cannot happen in the clinical conditions of a lab, stressing it needs to respond to a series of existing conditions, what he refers to as ‘the context, the culture, the landscape, the climate. Our climate is the one thing we can’t escape – the one condition we always have to respond to.’
The exhibition, he notes, explores how architecture evolves in response to its context, but also how life in return reacts to the framework created by the architecture.
‘BIG has perceived the National Building Museum more as a site for a project,’ says the curator Susan Piedmont-Palladino, so that sunlight, the sounds, and the sights of the Great Hall will all be part of the context of the display, much like for a building in the city.
Iwan Baan‘s photography captures BIG’s work, and films by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine, Kaspar Astrup Schroder, WAAITT and Squint/Opera document the life that emerges once the cranes have left and the buildings are complete.
One+ is an intriguing concept. Vehicle designer Fernando Ocana has created a conceptual electric bike designed specifically to transport clean water from place to place in the developing world.
The lead designer at pioneering electric car company Think, Ocana’s design is an unusual electric motorcycle inspired by the simplicity of the bicycle so that it is simple to produce and easy to maintain.
He says he was inspired by locally available material such as the jerrycan which he notes is a ‘common approach for the developing-world scenario.’
Ocana used rough plastics in the construction to keep costs low and weight nimble. The overall shape works around the need for it to hold the water containers, which can be removed and replaced as users fill up their jerrycans.
The wheels are made of rubber to absorb any shocks and impacts. This is where the battery and engine are stored to meet the renewable energy capacity in the developing world.
Ocana says the idea for the in-wheel electric engine and batteries came as an attempt to match the intensive developments in solar and wind power that are taking place through developing regions such as Central Africa.
Ocana was sponsored by Japanese carmaker Honda through the ‘mobility for the masses’ project when he was completing his masters in vehicle design at the Royal College of Art in London.
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The mood at the Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris could be summarised in the few words uttered by Peugeot’s design director Gilles Vidal. ‘We are going through big changes in the automotive world,’ the visionary French designer said as he guided me though 200 years of Peugeot’s research and development displayed on the stand.
‘Progress in this area won’t only be through engines and technological solutions, but about making our cars lighter, more efficient in terms of recycling,’ he said before concluding: ‘This is a global effort.’
We are in the second centenary of the motorcar and it is about time we reinvent the automobile to perform according to 21st century needs. This means taking a much more dramatic view of not just design, but as Vidal rightly noted, the entire package.
The good news is that at the final international show of the year, there appeared to be a genuine shift towards this way of thinking. This is still a new adventure, but judging by the array of innovative concept and production cars on display, perhaps we have reached a turning point in the life of the automobile. And the vast halls of Porte de Versailles showed that there are multiple solutions for clean, green driving – some clever, some bananas.
Renault and Nissan were one of the first to commit to electric driving. It was therefore good to see much progress in this area with the French marque showing three electric cars: the 2011 production Twizy city runabout, the Zoe and DeZir concepts. Sister company Nissan beat many of its competitors earlier in the year when it unveiled the four-seater production Leaf electric car. At Paris the Japanese firm unveiled a brand new electric concept, the flexible Townpod urban vehicle.
Audi and BMW presented more electric variants to join their respective eco sub-brands – Audi the e-tron Spyder and BMW announced plans to build a car based on its Vision Efficient Dynamic concept. This and the Megacity Vehicle (see our earlier report New Urban Mobility) will form part of the firm’s Project-I electric sub-brand.
Another clever proposition came via Porsche who announced its commitment to produce the exciting 918 Spyder hybrid supercar for 2013 first seen at the Geneva Motor Show in March. This is a beautiful piece of sculpture – the notes almost perfect. To marry this, speed and ecological is how the German carmaker sees its response to clean driving. ‘The 918 shows that you don’t have to compromise a sportscar by being ecological,’ noted design director Michael Mauer.
Away from the green theme, but worth noting is the Audi Quattro concept based on the fantastic original 1984 Sport Quattro with its iconic boxy and angular shape. Design director Wolfgang Egger explained to redesign such an car ‘you have to move away from the car and just keep the essence of its purity, the impression. This was a very angular car, but the modelling technology we have now allows for more dramatic surfacing,’ which he sees as the modern impression of the Quattro.
However, despite some excellent thoughts on clean mobility, it was down to the small sportscar maker Lotus to steel most headlines by unveiling six new cars – three sportcars, a coupé, a saloon and a city car concept. This is part of its young boss Dany Bahar’s multi-model ambitious plans to enter more segments.
Luckily design director Donato Coco promised that all the cars will remain in the tradition of Lotus design. ‘This is the most exciting British brand in the sense of originality and eccentricity,’ said the Italian ex-Ferrari designer. ‘To me this means the capacity to assembly unexpected elements, materials and shapes. This is what we have done in these cars – assemble a lot of innovation in a scheme that looks really classic.’
Read the full report and interviews with the designers at the show which appeared in Wallpaper*.
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