How ideas from RCA students for a megacity taxi in 2040 can impact on our future

Discussions on smart cities tend to miss the cultural side – the various social landscapes, which is why these designs by Royal College of Art Intelligent Mobility students – asked to imagine a taxi in a speculative megacity of 2040 – are worth looking into. A couple offer some sophisticated critical design thinking too with ideas that may have seemed impossible dreams before the pandemic made all things impossible possible. Take a closer look here

Real and conceptual design from Salone del Mobile Milan

Milan once again transformed into a city-wide celebration of visual culture for the Salone Internazionale del Mobile (12 to 17 April). In its 55th year, some 300,000 people arrived here last week with a shared passion for visual culture and ready to soak in the creative spirit. The main buzz is increasingly outside the main exhibition hall at Fuorisalone, which sees boutiques, smaller galleries, crumbling old palazzos around pockets of this vibrant city exhibit work with a more conceptual focus and by less established designers.

We love the extra layer Milan’s dynamic architectural backdrop offers too. Few urban settings have such a collage of architecture – decorative courtyards, charming palazzos, confident narcissistic fascists architecture, gritty post war brutalism, and contemporary builds all seem to co-habit peacefully.

There is a lot to take in, yet certain themes stood out. For instance, many designers used the occasion of Milan to respond to our ever decreasing living spaces in the urban sprawl. There were ideas presented on modular furniture, flexible spaces work/living environments, and ways of connecting for new communities to evolve.

Vitra and Italian architect Carlo Ratti collaborated on Lift-Bit, an adaptable sofa made of a series of stools that can be changed into an armchair, a bed, a sitting room or auditorium via a simple app.

Elsewhere, Mini explored current and future urban life, with some simple yet intriguing ideas on affordable and attractive compact housing that offers a balanced private/communal living arrangement. The carmaker worked with Yokohama architect ON Design, experts in micro-housing and collaborative living, and engineering firm Arup to create the Mini Living – Do Disturb installation in the Tortona design district.

The four 30-square-metre apartments are housed on single a floor of a residential building to form a micro-neighbourhood of likeminded residents. The living spaces are kept private whilst basic assets – kitchen, laundry room, utilities – are shared through a clever wall mechanism of rotating shelves that push out into a communal space.

Other overriding themes included exploring other realities and the unexpected. We came across an intriguing exhibition in the Brera district by students at the Swiss school ECAL. When Objects Dream challenges our common perceptions of everyday objects so a book, a toaster, even a simple broom offer another virtual world through headsets that transport us to a completely unexpected place for perhaps a way of understanding other perspectives, other views.

Lexus also addressed notions of anticipation in Milan. The Japanese car marque commissioned Amsterdam design studio Formafantasma for an inspiring trio of installations in a converted Tortona metal factory. The Lexus LF-FC fuel-cell car was the muse here, as the designer worked with Michelin star chef Yoji Tokuyoshi to explore the fusion of machine, craft and tradition in the context of this sustainable hydrogen powered fuel-cell car.

One installation sees a large metal frame hold 7,200 delicate flowing transparent threads, referencing early Japanese mechanised textile making. As the loom-like machine pulls and releases the threads, once stretched, they subtly reveal the three-dimensional outline of the LF-FC vehicle. It is meditative standing here observing the dance of machine, technology and craft.

In another room Formafantasma explores the scope of hydrogen technology to power a kinetic light installation. The four semi circular stainless steel sculptures, which resemble off-centre clocks, are mounted on a reflective pink platform that hides the power source. They too move mindfully to to a choreographed dance of sorts.

The sense of otherness is enhanced with an unexpected tasting menu offered by Yoji Tokuyoshi that is centred on clear water, a symbolic gesture to the only material emitted by hydrogen fuel cell technology.

The entries at the Lexus Design Awards also looked into the idea of the unexpected. The ambitious annual project supports emerging international talent and attracts young designers from all the around the world offering the chance for the winning designs to be made into prototypes.

Ideas offered by the finalists included packaging material made from seaweed, an instinctive children’s toy set, modular clothing that changes shape according to fashion, and a clock that visualises the present by marking the passing of time. We will be reporting more on these in detail later.

Other designers in Milan took on the challenge of working with natural forms as a reaction to digitalisation. Touch Base by Design Academy Eindhoven looked at tactile interactions working with a range of unusual natural materials like nettle textile, pine needles, and ceramics made from leftover dairy produce.

In Tortona, Toyota presented Setsuna, a functioning roadster made entirely of wood, conceptualised to explore our relationship with our cars, our memories, history, and the physical ageing process of the vehicle.

Made of 86 handmade wooden panels chosen for to their weight, durability and stiffness, Setsuna was assembled using the traditional okuriari Japanese wood joinery method. Japanese Cedar makes up the exterior for the refinement of its wood grain and its flexibility, whilst the chassis is made of Birch, strong Japanese Zelkova constitutes the floor, and the seats are made of smooth Castor Aralia.

There are ecological benefits here too since the modular panels can be exchanged when needed rather than having to replace the whole body. The idea is that the wood will evolve through history, change colour and texture with time, perhaps each generation will leave their mark by carving their signature in the wood. Time, therefore, adds value; makes the car into a living object.

Nargess Banks

Watch this gentle animation on the concept behind Sestuna here.

See highlights from the Salone in picture as published in Wallpaper* here.

Find out more about the Salone Internazionale del Mobile for 2017 here.

Read out previous Salone reports here.

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Cars and design unite at Salone del Mobile in Milan

Amongst the many, many creative festivals around the world, the Salone del Mobile has maintained its position as one of the most significant. When it comes to spotting the latest trends in design, in new materials, in concepts, in people, the Milan design week in April is the place to visit. Here, the city transforms into a gallery with neighbourhoods opening their doors to welcome this creative energy.

As Design Talks has reported in the past, some of the more enlightened car companies have clocked onto the importance of participating here. Last year, for instance, Lexus sponsored three designers and a group of emerging creatives for a very intriguing display.

This year, in the Area Sciesa Tre in Via Amatore Sciesa, BMW will be displaying its latest collaborative work with the award-winning designer Alfredo Häberli. Under the banner precision and poetry the duo have pooled their shared passion for technical innovation and contemporary materials to create a multi-layered, poetically inspired installation that unites the visions and values of tomorrow’s mobility with very personal perspectives.

Häberli’s own recollections and experience of cars have inspired this piece. Against the background of highly automated control, the designer imbues the driving experience with new meaning and renders it tangible within an impressive spatial dimension.

At the centre of his journey into the immediate future of mobility is a large-scale, deliberately abstract object – the form cites the lightness of forward motion and design addresses pivotal values of future automotive design. The idea is that if technically everything is feasible, the luxury of movement can focus on the core statement, and mobility becomes carefree and communicative.

‘Alfredo Häberli approaches our design philosophy with an ingenious passion and conceptual clout,’ says Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW Group design director. ‘I always enjoy philosophising with Alfredo on design and mobility, and I’m delighted to see these ideas now taking shape in an installation as well.’

Elsewhere, sister marque MINI has teamed up with Spanish artist and designer Jaime Hayon for a glimpse into urban mobility in the future. On the basis of the new MINI Citysurfer, a flexible, individual electric kick scooter concept, Hayon creates a fanciful experience world that showcases his personal take on future mobility, on exhibit at the Laboratorio Bergognone in Via Bergognone 26.

Finally, Japanese carmaker Lexus will be showing a Journey of the Senses at Carrozzeria Tonreria in the Zona Tortona. The installation sees French product and space designer Philippe Nigro creating a setting featuring food by the celebrated Japanese Michelin star chef Hajime Yoneda. The idea is to stimulate the senses, enabling people to experience unexpected new connections and insights. Sounds exciting…

Salone del Mobile is from 14 – 19 April in locations throughout Milan.

Read our previous reports from Salone del Mobile Milan

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Marc Lichte discusses the Audi Prologue

Last week we were invited to Milan to witness the European premier of a new concept car by Audi and to meet the man who penned it, chief designer Marc Lichte. The venue was a rather unusual pop-up boutique nestled in the fashionable Brera design district – the twinkling festive decorations outside adding a bit of sparkle to the occasion.

The Prologue is a study car that signals an evolution in design for Audi. It takes the marque’s clean design aesthetic a step further. With its long wheelbase, wide track, low cabin and intricate oversized wheels, this is an elegantly proportioned car.

Inside, the cabin is quiet where emphasis is on introducing classic automotive material – wood, leather and metal – but in their most natural form. It is also highly technological with three invisible screens on the horizontal instrument panel allowing the driver and front passenger to interact so that the latter, with a simple swiping motion across the screen, can transfer information across to the driver.

Lichte is relatively new to the job, having joined Audi in February brought over from sister brand Volkswagen, where he headed up the exterior team. We caught up with him to find out more.

Design Talks. This is your debut concept car for Audi. Yet it is so much more than a simple prototype; it is an expression of Audi design going forward. How would you describe the core brand values?

Marc Lichte. Audi has to be sporty, progressive and sophisticated. A big part of the history is technology. These core brand values need to be emphasised even more in the future. These will form the basis for the design of all future models.

DT. You seem to have a strong vision for Audi…

ML. [VW Group design director] Walter de Silva did a major step when he created the single-frame grille in 2004 with the sixth generation A6. It was a simple idea, but no one had done this before. He looked at our past racing cars and connected the upper grille to the bottom. This has been one of the most important steps for Audi design.

It has taken ten years to establish this, but now is the time to take a bigger step. It is dangerous to have a revolution at this stage, as everyone knows this as the face, so we have evolved the shape by extending the width of the grille adding volume to the car.

DL. You talk about emphasising the quattro identity of Audi cars going forward, something that is visually evident on the Prologue.

ML. One of the most important brand values for Audi is quattro. Our competitors have rear-wheel-drive cars, so they always stress the rear wheel. Quattro is more than a drivetrain concept. It will be emphasised on all our future cars but in different ways.

DT. What is your favourite element on the Prologue?

ML. It has a very fast slim greenhouse that is reminiscent of one of my favourite cars the original TT, which will become part of the sedan [saloon] design language.

DT. Audi excels at interior design and it is interesting to see how here you have created a serene environment that is also extremely high-tech. How do you marry the two?

ML. As cars become more advanced, the technology has to become more visually subtle. We wanted to introduce technology but not necessarily in the way say Tesla has. We needed to integrate the displays in the architecture – to be invisible almost.

DT. Is what we see production-feasible?

ML. This is a teaser for the production A8.

DT. One criticism in recent years has been in how similar Audi cars are beginning to look. Do you have plans to inject a dose of model differentiation?

ML. Yes, the A and Q cars [saloons/sedans and SUVs) will have differentiation, as will the cars within these segments. This includes the proportions of the single frame, so that the A8 will have a more dominant, a more proud single frame than say the A1.

DT. I hear you’ve been working on an electric concept car…

ML. It is still top secret! All I can say is that in the same way we will differentiate A, Q and R, we will differentiate our future E models.

DT. Are there any contemporary designers who you follow closely?

ML. I have a lot of furniture by Mies Van der Rohe, designed in the twenties that still look so modern. I like the work of Constantine Gricic and [contemporary] designers who do something progressive but at the same time timeless. From my classic car collection it is the 69 Porsche 911 that inspires the most. It is progressive; the shape is timeless, reduced to the minimum. It is easy to do something wild and fashionable but I think products need to be timeless.

DT. Where do you go for inspiration?

ML. The architecture of Scandinavia, the clean design, timelessness using warm materials like wood. But I still come up with the best ideas when sailing my boat. My heart is in sailing – I’ve been racing since I was six. On the weekends when I’m on my X Yacht XP33 racing boat in the Baltic Sea, this is where the creative energy comes in. This is when I do my thinking.

Nargess Banks

Read more on this in Wallpaper*.

Read our review of the latest Audi TT here, and our other reports on Audi here.

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Car design trends: Frankfurt Motor Show 2011

We are at the start of the second life of the automobile. Up until recently, cars were more of less about individual mobility, personal space, about ownership. It has been about creating beautiful or quirky sculpture.

With our diminishing fossil fuel reserves, concerns for the environment and world economic recession, the closeted, cosy world of the automobile has had to shift. I recall going to see controversial ex-BMW design boss Chris Bangle at London’s Design Museum in 2004 who talked of the car essentially remaining the same horseless carriage of a hundred or so years ago, and even then proposing we re-address the automobile.

Fast-forward to September 2011, and it seemed that at the Frankfurt Motor Show some genuinely interesting ideas for future transport and mobility were being proposed.  Alternating yearly, Frankfurt and Paris are the most coveted international shows and an indicator as to where this industry is heading.

So what were these trends? It was admittedly a bizarre mix of clean mobility that has more in common with product design versus extreme high-performance cars wrapped up in shinny metal with the usual references – clean lines, lean athletic muscle.

BMW’s i3 and i8 – its first offerings in its electric sub-brand which we reported here back in the summer – are inspired concept cars that will be produced in the next few years at the Zaha Hadid Leipzig factory and promise to remain close to what we see now.

Audi Urban Concept studies, in coupé and open-top Spyder formats, are plug-in electric two-seater concepts that feature carbon fibre monocoque; the interior uses aluminium and carbonfibre trim and a quirky square steering wheel. Despite their modern approach to mobility, these cars retain the clean and precise Audi design DNA.

Volkswagen’s Nils is a similar idea – this one a tiny one-seat concept car with gullwing doors in a unique shape that envisions a future mode of urban transportation. Our reaction, design director Klaus Bischoff told me at the show, will determine if the marque will invest in such mobility solutions. We already saw the VW e-Scooter concept at Shanghai and a car like the Nils will fit in nicely to the marque’s electric portfolio.

These are just some of the ideas exhibited at Frankfurt. Read my full report published in Wallpaper*.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

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