Formula, presented as a working prototype at the Geneva Show, is not simply a
minimalist expression of the "barchetta" concept. Much more than that, it is a
compendium of future Seat design trends.
The idea of creating a performance sports car came up in April 1998 at the Volkswagen Group's Design Center Europe at Sitges near Barcelona directed by Erwin Himmel. That September the design was presented to the Seat management and approved. And in October work began on the prototype which was built by the Italian company Stola in Turin.
"In spirit", says Erwin Himmel, "this car reflects the dynamism of a company that is increasingly concentrating on supplying high energy sports models to the younger motorist. And that's exactly what the Formula does: it forcefully expresses the new character of the Seat brand. With a hint of self-mockery, but with more than a touch of a challenge".
Entertainingly provocative, the Seat Formula slots comfortably into the fun-car niche alongside models like the Renault Spider or the Lotus Elise. No surprise then that the entire project was targeted towards the possibility of limited series production. The structure consists of an extruded aluminium space frame on which the bodywork panels of composite material are hung, a system that allowed for considerable weight reduction (the Formula weighs barely 900 kg).
The mid-rear engine is mounted on an aluminium sub-frame using unwelded pressure-cast bearings that make their own contribution to the structural rigidity of the whole. The designers opted for the 2-litre, 4-cylinder 20-valve turbo engine used on the Seat rally cars. That engine combines impressive power (240 bhp at 5800 rpm) with huge torque (295 Nm between 2100 and 4800 rpm). Factor in the light weight of the car and you get outstanding performance in terms of both top speed (235 km/h) and acceleration (0-100 km/h in 4.8 seconds).
The two-year Transportation Design course of the Escuela Superior de Diseño Industrial in Valencia (Spain), completed in January 1997 and directed by José L. Ferrer, has produced twelve new concept cars. Each project was developed, as course leader, Antonio Garrido, explains "with full respect for the ergonomics, visibility, safety, drivetrain, handling, suspension, interior space and dimensions necessary for product feasibility." ESDI, continues Garrido, "doesn't just offer the students technical skills, stylistic concepts, the ability to produce sketches and renderings and design and build models, but also the awareness of having to contribute their own personal style to a shared group task. For design is not a simple construct of forms, surfaces and volumes, it is made of emotions, hard work and enthusiasm. It means love for the best you can do: we prepare them for reality." The twelve projects are illustrated on these pages (with the authors' names in brackets).
|Scuole di design||
by Carl Olsen
Auto & Design December 1997 n. 107
One of the rewards of participating in design education is to follow the progress of your students when they start their careers in industry or with design consultancies. I have been active in design education for more years than I care to recall, eleven years as a one day per week tutor at the Royal College of Art in London and for the past ten years chairman of transportation design at the Center for Creative Studies. Now I have the great pleasure, when reading journals devoted to automotive design, to frequently discover the faces and the work of old friends who have become major forces in automotive design. To give an example, looking through issue number 103 of Auto & Design, one sees a feature on the new Audi A6 with design chief Peter Schreyer peering out from page 35. Peter was part of a remarkable group of German designers at the RCA which included Achim Storz, Gert Hildebrand and Irwin Himmel, all of whom have important careers in design. Following that, one sees a feature on the new Volvo C70, which had major input from RCA alumni Peter Horbury, design chief at Volvo, and Ian Callum as a consultant. A little further on in the issue is a feature on the splendid Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid. Chrysler has given major credit for these designs to Mark Hall (Concorde) and Bob Boniface (Intrepid), both very recent alumni of CCS. What a start to a career in automobile design! Further on we see Luciano d'Ambrosio, an RCA alumnus who has the prestigious position of chief exterior designer at Bertone. Next we see a feature on Geoff Upex, director of design for Rover. Geoff, an RCA alumnus, also worked with me at Ogle. Rover's Mini proposals were a delightful surprise at the '97 Geneva show. Finally there was our article on work done at CCS during the academic year 1996. The graduates of this group are working with Alias, Ford, General Motors, Honda and Storz Design in Austria. For my review of the class of May '97 I have chosen to feature four designers whose work was extremely well received by the automobile design fraternity. Indeed all four designers had at least seven job offers each. Mark Micelli and John Norman have gone to Honda, Jon Gaudreau to Chrysler and Nicki Kwee to Ford in Germany. But in their class there were also eight other talented young people all of whom had one or more job opportunities.
(The story continues in Auto & Design no. 107 on pages 86-89) 5
by Ray McKenna
Auto & Design October 1997 n. 106
The big news at this year's Frankfurt show was the launch of the Mercedes-Benz A-class. Which was also big news at Coventry University's School of Art and Design, as we discovered when we spoke to David Browne for our annual update on activities there. The school's chief of Industrial Design was very happy to explain how one of his students, Steve Mattin, had helped design the A-class exterior, going directly from Coventry to the Mercedes studios after graduating in 1989. More than just a stroke of good luck, his achievement reflects the importance of the internships - a five-month industry placement - which form part of the school's Master of Design course. Steve had done his internship with Mercedes and, at final show time, a company representative persuaded him to go straight to Sindelfingen rather than embark on a post-grad course. The rest is automotive history. Interesting, too, to note that the Coventry school has recently been featured in two motoring programmes on rival British TV channels. As David Browne confirms, this reflects a growing awareness of design among the general public and a desire to find out "how it works" - an encouraging development that is positive for both the school itself and the profession in general. As usual, this summer saw the latest crop of graduates put their final-year projects on show at the Museum of British Transport. Although a glance at our selection immediately reveals a tendency towards certain recurring typological details (such as lengthy bonnets or exposed wheels), these were not the outcome of a brief imposed by the school, but, more interestingly, represent current trends as interpreted by the students or quite simply the kind of car they themselves would like to see on the streets. The M.Des course at Coventry includes significant research and research-writing content. On returning from their internships, each student prepares for the final year by compiling a project development book which, after being submitted to their tutors for approval, determines each stage of the design process all the way from initial brief to finished 3D version in time for the final review in June.
been a long time since there have been so many one-off cars in a motor show as
were on display in Detroit this year... perhaps not since the wonderful old
Torino shows in the Valentino Park in the Fifties and Sixties, back when Fiat
still made coachbuilder's chassis and Giovanni Michelotti designed dozens of
cars just for the show. Unfortunately, just as in Torino long ago, many of the
cars on hand were less than sparkling examples of the designer's art, the Buick
Cielo in particular being simply grotesque, however interesting its concept of a
sliding roof might be, however well-copied the Fifties Siata grille.
Two grand themes ran through the concept cars: reliving the past and taking up arms for the future with urban assault vehicles, totems against the fear of violence that pervades modern cities. The Oldsmobile Recon has a tall, blunt front end that reminds one of the riot police vehicles seen in films of upheavals in far-off places. Even some of the retro cars carry this subliminal fear motif; body sides are high, the side windows are just a bit more than slits. The Nissan 240 Z concept has this tall-side, short window height proportion, as does the Ford Thunderbird, so close in line and form to the 1955-57 model that it could actually have been the 1958 two-seater (yes, flexible painted bumpers were possible that long ago) had Ford not shifted to four-passenger sporty cars with the Thunderbird name late in 1957. Forty-two years of design progress really ought to give us a bit more than this regurgitation. It's nicely done, it will no doubt be a fine car mechanically because engineering has progressed wildly while style looks back. That's too bad.
To really understand the psychological underpinnings of all the timid recapitulations of the past, a visit to the Cadillac stand made everything clear. The intended star of the event was Evoq, a handsome roadster built to show off the design themes already determined for forthcoming mainstream Cadillacs. Once again there is a high side and a fortress-like upper with small windows, faceted surfaces that recall the flat shapes on armored cars for military use. It's a car suitable for cruising the mean streets of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner Los Angeles or Batman's crime-ridden Gotham City. Contrast this protective suit of armor with the astonishing Cadillac Cyclone two-seater from 1959 on the stand. It's brash, exuberant, extroverted. Two "space rockets" are joined by a thin central section, and the driver and passenger are exposed almost from the waist up. The windshield is delicate and is intended only to deflect air, not bullets. No fear here, just the wheeled expression of American optimism and unbounded confidence. Even the seemingly silly radomes on the front are an expression of an advanced concept: radar- controlled braking, just now available, not on a Cadillac, but from Mercedes. The Cyclone may not be a serious design, but it is a serious indicator of the unafraid mental state of America when it was made. Alas, so is the Evoq.
(The story continues in Auto & Design no. 114 on pages 23-25)
by Alberto Calliano
Auto & Design April 1998 n. 109
The eye scans the body lines. And the car seems to change under your gaze. The front recalls the powerful Group C berlinettas, while in three-quarter view you pick up definite hints of the speedster. Then walk round to the back and a pickup starts to emerge that is at once aggressive and transgressive. The car, of course, hasn't moved. And yet it has travelled a long way and taken us with it along the meandering paths of emotion into curious by-ways of versatility. They call it the Pickster and it's a working research model on a BMW platform on which Bertone has used a diversified palette of styling languages (the name itself says it all). Their aim here has been to stimulate and provoke, unfettered by mission objectives but still with credibility. "The Pickster", emphasises Eugenio Pagliano, Bertone interior styling chief, "is a typical example of the emotion-inspired Bertone car. There's no attempt at rationalism here, just an urge to escape, to reach out of the cage of respectability". It is of course the sort of thing the true artists of automotive design really love to do. And, as you might expect, when limitless creativity is in the driving seat, the time it takes becomes of only relative importance. "We'd had something like this in mind for ages", says Luciano D'Ambrosio, head of exterior design at Bertone. "But for various reasons, on other occasions, we'd opted for something more sensible, mostly because we were working to specific orders. So the dream got shelved". That is until about three months before the Geneva Motor Show at which the Pickster study was presented. So it's not hard to imagine how much concentrated hard work went into the project development. It was, in fact, full-speed ahead the whole day. In less time than it takes to tell, the team came up with two totally contrasting ideas. Without too much dithering one was given the green flag and a scale 'half model' was swiftly mocked up for them to work on. Then came the full scale plaster model and soon after that the prototype. Initially only a few people were involved in the project: designers, plaster model makers, prototype specialists. Towards the end though, the Pickster acquired a huge support team, many of them volunteers. "The really exciting thing", says D'Ambrosio, "the miracle that happens with every show car is that it ends up catalysing everybody's attention. And you even find people willing to sacrifice their free time in order to get involved and get the thing finished".
(The story continues in Auto & Design no. 109 on pages 49-56) 5))
by Daniele Cornil
Auto & Design October 1997 n. 106
It could be a bike with an extra wheel. Or a car with one wheel less. A question of point of view. One thing is for sure: with the F300 Life-Jet, Mercedes-Benz wished to amaze and amuse. Without, of course, losing sight of the common thread that links all the proposals made by Mercedes Advanced Design: the search for innovative technological solutions which, explored over and over on concept-cars, might then debut on ever more sophisticated production models. "The F300 Life-Jet prototype," explains Harald Leschke, head of Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design, "grew from an idea from Mercedes R&D: it was no coincidence that the project leader was Gunter Holzel, our R&D chief. Conceptually, the car responds to two basic requirements: on the one hand to continue the theme of technological innovation begun with the F100 and F200 concept cars and, on the other hand, to interpret the automobile concept in a new way, putting the fun aspect into the foreground. Hence the decision to work on a hybrid formula, midway between car and motorcycle. And the naming of the car is coherent with its role: the F stands for Forschung (research), the 300 shows it follows on from the F100 and the F200 and the Life-Jet tag gives the idea of a light and wieldy fun vehicle." Three wheels, powerplant and cabin. The Mercedes F300 responds to an apparently minimalist philosophy that places it on the cusp of the historic German microcar tradition and the technologies of tomorrow's car. In fact, despite its having an aggressive look, half way between superbike and fighter plane, the F300 appears to have its biological roots far back in time. In post-war Europe, from roughly 1952 to 1964, the desire to get on coincided with the art of getting by. This was true in Italy, but in Germany too, where, if the car was a luxury, the scooter still remained a treat reserved for countries with kinder climates. Thus was born the three-wheeled microcar: from the Messerschmitt KR 175 to the Heinkel 154 'Kabine', the Messerschmitt KR 200 and the BMW Isetta 300, to mention just a few of the better known ones. But let's make it plain: what the present F300 shares with the microcars of yore is their minimalist setup and nothing else. And in any case this is a desired and deliberated minimalism, sublimated to the technology of out and out excellence. "We started working on the F300 project in 1995," says Leschke, "at Advanced Design in Sindelfingen. In fact, for practical reasons, when a research project is so closely related to new technologies, we prefer not to involve our studios in the USA and Japan. For the F300 the starting point was basically research into how the car behaved when cornering. Initially we considered two possibilities. In the first, the wheels were fixed and only the bodywork leaned. In the second solution a coaxial movement of the front wheels and the whole of the car was envisaged. Late in 1995, in December to be precise, the second solution was opted for."
(The design story continues in A&D no. 106 on pages 57-62) 5))
by Wim Oude Weernink
Auto & Design December 1997 n. 107
In the beginning, Japanese cars were boxy with lots of brightwork but expressionless apart from the odd detail copied from European or American models. Then aerodynamics began to rule car design and all the Japanese manufacturers turned to jelly-bean and banana shapes. Until they discovered that their creative potential was starting to run out, which explains why recent Japanese models rely on old design themes rather than offer innovation. Now, inside Japanese design circles, opinions are changing and ambitions are growing despite the barriers to creativity. But the problem is that most designers are company employees, working under a constant pressure from sales and marketing managers to perform, i.e. create designs that sell better than the competition's. Profitability is the only target. So in the management's eyes, good design is synonymous with a model's sales success. As a result, these designers are scared to death of making a mistake, let alone dare to experiment with new ideas. According to some of the more experienced senior Japanese designers who over the years have developed their own opinions, most newcomers to design do not even realise that Japan has built up its own car-design heritage. The fact that most young Japanese designers live in the uninspiring environment of factory-owned apartments, eat noodles and have no opportunity to meet other artists imposes creative restrictions. They do not understand the principles of timeless design. Instead, they are constantly searching for new developments to keep a car looking fresh, hence they change the design every two years by adding feature mouldings, lamps and grilles. And it has led to numerous wild and dynamic, but at the same time pointless, studies that lack any deep conceptual thinking. But the exceptions are increasingly beginning to overturn these trends. At an exhibition of women designers at the Tokyo-Ropongi Axis gallery, a dozen young women displayed their contributions to Japan's male-oriented design world. In particular, 29-year old Eri Nagai stole the show. Eri studied industrial design at the Kwasawa design school, came to the Honda R&D centre in Wako in 1992 and did advanced design until 1995 when she joined the CRV design team and was responsible for the latest CRV sport utility's exterior shape. More recently she was appointed project leader for the 1998 model-year CRV and heads its design team.
(The story continues in Auto & Design no. 107 on pages 76-79) 5))
Auto & Design - April 96 n. 97
If art is the medium through
which forms become style - the assertion is Malraux’s - then the form of the
automobile that generates style may deservedly lay claim to the title of art. An
ever controversial acknowledgement, never openly approved, notwithstanding the
authoritative declarations in its favour (Dexter: “the car is mobile
sculpture”), the welcoming of historically celebrated models in prestigious
museums (the Cisitalia by Pininfarina is exhibited by the Museum of Modern Art
in New York), the million-dollar auctions of fabulous classic cars, the motor
museums and the large private collections.
And why not define it, without the reticence, ‘automotive art’ when the automobile object can be identified within historically defined stylistic paradigms? In the pages of this magazine, in a recent article, Michel Harmand demonstrated with clear arguments and precise references how a very close link has been established between some of the more recent works of automotive style and well-defined periods of painting, sculpture and architecture, with virtually the same identifying signs and evident expressive involvement in various cultural movements.
Driven by the momentum of industrial
culture, the automobile has always been considered a product of technology and
mass reproduction whose form had more value as the container of a functional
item than as an artistic expression whose attractiveness often (not to say
always) determined its acceptance on the part of the purchaser. Grudgingly it
has been accepted into the history of industrial design, beneath the wary eye of
that ‘other’ design, as though it lacked the necessary requisites to scale the
same heights. Only recently has automotive design acquired equal dignity and
status in the various schools.
But definition as art has remained beyond the pale, regardless of the work of master coachbuilders whose automotive forms were and are authentic sculptures; despite the creative flair of the leading designers who frequently define styles, establish trends and tangibly contribute to the evolution of forms.
The industrial aspect tends to steamroller the automobile into group efforts; a group that appears to put its faith more in computerised systems than the contribution of human genius and initiative.
In his memoirs Dante Giacose, a great
designer who has just left us, states that he does not believe that a good
project can be created by committee. And to confirm his opinion remembers that
Kettering, an enlightened designer with General Motors in the 1920s, used to say
that “when a committee gets together with the idea of designing a horse, it ends
up producing a camel.”
It is man, therefore, the creator and inventor, who forms the basis for each project, and when man creates a car he makes his work an art. Why not take the opportunity at this Turin Motor Show, which dedicates itself to style, to bring the car the title of art it so deserves?
Auto & Design - february 96n. 96
An old friend, a
distinguished aesthete, recently said to me, half kidding, half in earnest: “A
new art might just be about to earn its laurels: call it automotive art.”
As I offered him a speciously naive and interrogative look in reply, he explained how he had started to distinguish - I quote - “the singular essence of certain automotive forms,” just as he had been doing for long enough in the domain of sculptural, pictorial and architectural forms.
If one sets any store by the famous phrase of Malraux, “Art is the means by which forms become style,” it is true that a pertinent analysis of the century the automobile has just experienced would show that the essence of form in a certain number of exceptional creations merits their being identified as members of known stylistic categories and thus attain to art. This is particularly true of some recent, wholly typical, examples.
The post-modernism, making large use of symbols, which crystalised in the heart of this century and has appeared in architecture for at least two decades, whether, (to employ the language of the critics) of ‘Historicist’ inspiration, as in Ricardo Boffil, or of ‘Modernist’ inspiration, as in Henri Ciriani or Carlo Scarpa, partakes of a tendency relating somewhat, in principle, to that which is found in certain contemporary automotive objects the likes of the Aston Martin or Lagonda Vignale of Moray Callum for Ghia, Giugiaro’s Bugatti EB 112 saloon for Italdesign, or the Renault Initiale by Florian Thiercelin for the Régie, representing the historicist current, or the Renault Spider or Chrysler Eagle Jazz, for the modernist: examples in which one recognises a most pertinent use of fragments of an older style, demonstrated as so many sophisticated citations of earlier epochs
Up: Jacques Villon, Soldates en Marche
Bottom: Ford GT 90
One is enraptured and astonished before the
Ford Focus of Taru Lahti for Ghia, bringing to mind the baroque architectural
forms of Antonio Gaudí also to be found, though somewhat attenuated, in the
Fords Zig and Zag of David Wilkie and Claudio Messale, again at Ghia.
What a surprise, too, to find vestiges of the between-wars cubist spirit in the Ford GT 90 of Tom Scott, with its thousand-and-one prismatic facets, which Pablo Picasso or Jacques Villon would doubtlessy not have disavowed. The Bauhaus and the ‘rational beauty’ of Paul Souriau are reincarnate in the Audi TT of Peter Schreyer, the Volkswagen Concept 1 of Jay Mays or, again, in the Argos of Jean-Pierre Ploué for Renault, rediscovering the basic forms of Gropius, Breuer and even Kandinsky or those, once again, of Le Corbusian ‘Esprit Nouveau’ and ‘Purism’.
The lyricism in the forms of Luigi Colani, founder of ‘bio-design’ (not a prosaic design, not exclusively functionalist, but rather, as the philosophers say, an example of ‘poeisis’ which one could qualify as ‘bionic’) is sometimes very close to the sculptural forms of a Jean Arp, an Antoine Poncet or an Alberto Viani. As for those who preach the measure, discretion and elegance of classicism, they shall be served by the well-known Xantia of Marc Deschamps and Bertone for Citroën or the most recent Peugeot 406 of Gérard Welter.
Up: Vassily Kandinsky, Grüner Duft
Bottom: Renault Argos 90
One could lengthen the list at will and
demonstrate how the most diverse and affirmed of styles cannot but issue from
the deepest innards of the body, at the individual level: more than anything
else, they are the trace of a gesture, the trace of the hand that shaped the
form, a form that is itself the materialisation of the idea, of the concept,
imagined by creative minds whose singular culture mentally conglomerates,
secretes and sediments the virtual image, sometimes for long months: a
post-modern, baroque, cubist, functionalist, lyric, classic, or whatever, image
of the world to come, edified according to the individual sensibility of each
and every one.
In this as in every other artistic domain, it is impossible to create a meaningful form without experiencing the mediation of culture. What the Anglo-Saxon philosophers call ‘empathy’, as much as the ‘Einfühlung’ of the Germans, this universal faculty of the subject, sensitive to his own and to other times, to his environment and the object, is the very mainspring of stylistic creation, integral to the field of activity of automobile morphology. This is the reason why one cannot envisage a designer estranged from the era in which he leads his daily life, his habitual field of experience.
This in no way implies that he cannot go back at times to the historic past to recover older concepts, as is precisely the case with the post-modern current in architecture, where a route is taken analogous to that of automobile design in the abovementioned cases.
The malcontents who at present refuse to acknowledge the evident phenomenon of the adoption of the automobile as a possible working hypothesis and eventual field of activity for three-dimensional creation give evidence of real blindness. It is true they are often much more enthusiastic about the philosophical interpretation of forms than by the forms themselves, by conceptual speculation rather than practical realisation; oh how much material in this exact domain, and yet doubtlessly trivial in their eyes, indifferent as they are to the delectations of sensibility!
Towards the end of the 20th century we have achieved an epoch where the industry offers the creative mind an immense field of activity in terms of possibilities of expression, result of the no less enormous means at its disposal in order to ‘do’ what has been ‘envisaged’ or ‘said’, to realise the dream, the idea.
Contemplate a moment the vaster and vaster
resources that the automobile industry activates in order to build the forms of
tomorrow. The last decade has shown us the degree of importance that is now
afforded to concerns for the form of the automotive object, perhaps, it is true,
(at least in part) due to the ever more evident demand from the public, a key
element of contemporary culture, lest we forget, in return catered for by an
ever more diversified supply (the niche vehicles are the latest testimony to
A kind of isomorphism seems to be emerging more and more clearly between the present-day creator and his cultural milieu: so, an astonishing variety of style that is currently exploding and renewing itself at no less astonishing speed within the very heart of our automotive sphere, at least in the elaboration of ‘concept cars’ where the designer is much freer to express himself than in more self-conscious volume production where the omnipotent marque decision-makers act in more autocratic and even, at times, despotic manner.
In any event, it would appear that no one any longer doubts the decisive contribution of the industry, like that of the public, to the advent of a new art that is gaining a growing number of enlightened devotees: ‘automotive form’, celebrated at cultural events whose density cannot but augment as time goes slowly but surely by.