Interview: Stefan Sielaff on Audi design

Stefan Sielaff joined German carmaker Audi in 1990 becoming head of design in 2006, and apart from a brief spell at Mercedes-Benz interior studio near Lake Como in Italy, he has largely worked within the Volkswagen Group. Here he discusses the marque’s involvement with architecture and urbanism through the Audi Urban Future Awards, and his thoughts on electric car design.

Read the full interview published in Wallpaper*.

Stefan Sielaff, head of design at Audi

Since the interview Sielaff has announced plans to join parent company VW to head the interior design team starting in February 2011.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks 

Read more reports on the Audi Urban Future Awards including interviews with winner Jurgen Mayer from J Mayer H here and here, and BIG‘s founder Bjarke Ingels here. Also have a look the report on phase one of the awards published in Wallpaper*.


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

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In picture: Sarpi Border Checkpoint

This is the Sarpi Border Checkpoint, the customs checkpoint situated at the Georgian border to Turkey, at the shore of the Black Sea. The creative work of Berlin architect J Mayer H, it features cantilevering terraces – the tower is used as a viewing platform, with multiple levels overlooking the water and the steep part of the coastline.

In addition to the regular customs facilities, the structure also houses a cafeteria, staff rooms and a conference room. The building welcomes visitors to Georgia, representing the progressive upsurge of the country. Construction was completed this month.

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

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In talk with J Mayer H’s Jürgen Mayer

Back in June carmaker Audi sponsored a group of progressive architects from around the world to conceive of a cityscape for 2030 where urban planning, building design, wireless digital technology and vehicle design work together for sustainable mobility. Berlin practice J Mayer H has won the Audi Urban Future Awards for his clever and practical vision for such a utopia.

Jurgen Mayer Photo© Jens Passoth

In this 2030 urban setting, founder Jürgen Mayer has concentrated on utilising digital technology to get the most out of the car and free the driver to do more than manoeuvre through traffic. By using a combination of outside satellite systems for long range assistance, and GPS systems built within the car for short range assistance to supervise the immediate surroundings, in Mayer’s world, the car can navigate and move itself autonomously.

‘When the car is responsive to other traffic components – other cars, pedestrians, animals – then you don’t need all the technologies that support driving as in streets, traffic lights and marks in the street,’ says Mayer. ‘You no longer need lights at night, as automated cars know where they’re going so the light pollution aspect is reduced. There will be a constant flow of traffic so there won’t be parked cars.’

J Mayer's shows what a driver can do in a driverless car for the Audi Urban Future Awards

In this visionary world, the car will transform from being a viewing machine for manoeuvring in traffic towards a sensorial experience machine. Now that the urban landscape is free of all the extra objects that support mobility, its inhabitants can once again appreciate buildings and other monuments.

‘If you empty the city of these objects, it gives space back to the city, the buildings and the people,’ he enthuses. ‘Your attention is brought back to other people and the built environment. It means we have more street space for pedestrians, more space for buildings to grow.’

J Mayer's proposal for Audi Urban Future Award

Mayer sees some form of personal mobility as the intermediate solution for urban mobility. His system works much like a taxi in that the customer buys into it as in a pay-as-you-go method. The city will make a contract with a network provider who will then make contracts with the car producers and the finance comes from the user of the taxis. The cars are therefore driven by demand rather than ownership.

‘We have to rethink the car following its first 100 years,’ notes Mayer. ‘The car is a very successful machine but it also creates many problems in terms of pollution, noise and space in cities. We should take the good parts and get rid of the parts that don’t work. What I’m proposing is a kind of individual mass transportation system.’

J Mayer's proposal for Audi Urban Future Award

This proposal is more suited to new cities, or those with less ‘sentimentality’ as Mayer puts it. ‘It may be hard to install this in Europe as we have so many highly developed systems here. It would be easier in new built cities in China, India or Africa where you can jump right in with the new technology,’ he says. ‘There are some areas of Africa that are so highly developed with mobile phone technology, as this is the first phone they got! The whole thing is more complex here in Europe.’

Mayer’s team were initially inspired by images from sci-fi films. ‘We did look at some of these futuristic ideas like moving between galaxies, moving between dimensions, and how we’re moving inside our own bodies through the blood system,’ he says. ‘We then tried to think what is the fantasy we have now and build on that. Maybe the future that happens in the short run is invisible – it comes as a digital revolution that might not look different at first but it completely changes how we live.’

J Mayer H picked up the €100,000 prize at the Venice Biennale in August.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read the report on phase one of the competition. Also read the full interview published in Car Design News. Also read our interview with Jurgen Mayer here on his activities with Audi since the competition. 

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

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©