Forgive me, but recently my mind has been on overload thinking about design and the different approaches. I was recently told to consider my very own personal style and where exactly to fit in, supposedly having a signature style and authorship of your work helps to gain clients. Anyway as my mind wanders and as I consider many things, it became apparent to me that we as human beings are all walking contradictions, I more so than most… You see in the last couple of years I have been left a little flat with various offerings by the mainstream major car studios with their concept cars. Most of them are very worthy and very nicely styled. However, they are more often than not, blinged up production cars that are lowered with bigger wheels and some generally very beautiful details that never see the light of day due to production costs. But in terms of theme, there is an awful lot of me-2 styling. It occurs in most industries and has been around for ever, so it isn’t really a surprise. It is just that there appears to be a lot of Pigeon Detective cars or Scouting For Girls Cars at the moment, they make a pleasant enough noise but they don’t really say anything to anybody. This can be acceptable for production cars but concept cars should be about something or say something. Now, there have been some very notable exceptions.
The Ford Iosis was visually exciting and previewed a quite interesting theme( kinetic design), Mazda’s Nagare was incredibly exciting with its new bio design language and BMW’s Mille Miglia, although not beautiful was incredibly progressive in its use of 3-dimensional form. Furthermore, every year, the Los Angeles Design challenge show throws up some very exciting concepts. The problem I have is that concept cars should be used as an expression of style, a very dramatic expression of style- They should not be derivative of other people’s design language and they should be as close to automotive art as possible. What bothers me is that, in most cases they aren’t, most examples are derived from other brands or design languages creating statements that are incoherent and in some cases banal. However, there are 2 examples that are incredibly noteworthy of praise for the respective statements they make. Both of which I admire greatly, both of which are incredibly different. They were released in 2007, and are both sports saloons from premium brands and both oversaw from two of the most high profile design chiefs in the business. The BMW Concept CS and The Jaguar CXF.
Now the BMW CS, is a car that is characterised by its wild surface language, the energetic mix of positive & negative surfaces that create its body. I love Bangle’s philosophy that we are now in an age where technology allows us to make whichever shape we want, we should no longer be limited by the tools that create the shapes but only by our imagination. His is a philosophy that harks back to an age before objects were produced in massive volumes, before they could be standardised and honed to suit the materials. If you happen to visit any design museum and trace, the evolution of any object like a spoon or cup, you will see that they began as incredibly ornate objects, time and production processes have seen them evolve into much simpler objects with less unnecessary decoration. With the increasing standardisation of the motor car’s proportions, giving the designer less scope to use proportions as a tool to influence the cars shape, Bangle thought it was time that the power returned to the designer to create shapes that inspired him/her to recreate life in the motorcar, rendering it a more artistic and hopefully warmer object. A creative stance now being reproduced by many architects – most notably Zaha Hadid. It is an antique yet revolutionary stance and perfectly in fitting with BMW’s modernist values. You can see that their designers are clearly influence by nature, the human form, scultpure etc… They are seeking to take car design into new territories, to the next generation, it is a bloudy brave thing to do and obviously they don’t get it right every time, but I genuinely think that in 20 -30 years, Bangle’s shapes ( particularily the first Z4) will be remembered as icons and ahead of their time. Anybody that understands beauty and sculpture can appreciate the dynamism of those shapes. And with the CS, it has mostly been taken to the next level, the shapes and sculpture are still bold but they are more refined and with the car’s outrageously wide and low proportions, you have something that is outrageously modern and incredibly dramatic. Something that is unambiguously progressive and a perfect statement of BMW‘s values.
Now the Jaguar CXF, in terms of spirit could not be more different. Whereas the BMW is terribly complex, the Jaguar is simple. And in simplicity, I could not pay a bigger compliment as simplicity tends to require fewer elements, yet fewer elements means that each of those individual elements have to be perfect. To create dynamism through simplicity requires a great deal of skill and discipline, yet the bi product of simplicity is in this case is subtlety and elegance which in itself is rare at this moment. In an age when everybody is shouting louder and louder for attention, the Jaguar becomes one of the few things worth listening too as it isn’t trying too hard. Whereas the BMW has a feast of lines, curves, surface changes, each individually turning up the volume level to 11. The Jaguar has only the minimal amount of swage lines, details and body creases. Yet each one is so perfectly controlled and expertly executed that it endows the car with a similar level of dynamism yet with an economy and warmth that is captivating and oh so so British, but Britishness at its best. I do have to liken it a little bit to the Aston Martins that Ian Callum created in the 90‘s. They weren’t overly bold in concept yet impeccable in execution. Beautiful proportions + beautiful surfaces + beautiful details and all complimentary of the overall design balance tends to equal eye wateringly beautiful cars. The CXF is rather similar, beautiful surfaces, beautiful details and on and on. Again, what I love most about the CXF is, like the Aston Martins, they have taken a century of our craft and rather than resorting to retro design, which is oh so easy and tempting, they have taken it and perfected it. The CXF looks perfectly modern yet it doesn’t leave you cold like other modern products can do. And this is where the designers should be congratulated. It is an incredibly difficult thing to do, to make a statement that is modern yet ultimately doesn’t alienate the public. This is exactly what Jaguar has done.
Now what puzzled me initially about how can I be in love with two cars that are so different at the same time – either you like positive surfaces that are perfected and crafted in a way that is honest to the materials or you want to take metal and shape and bend it in the most outrageous way possible. Well you see, if you love design in any form, you can appreciate both of these cars as they are true to themselves and are both very pure forms of expressions. I have no doubt that the BMW designers weren’t thinking about Jaguars or Aston Martins for that matter when creating the CS, and likewise the Jaguar designers weren’t thinking of flame-surfacing when doing the CXF. And you have two designers, Ian Callum and Chris Bangle – who are worlds apart in their respective design philosophies yet- are to be equally respected. One of them is responsible for taking his experience and know how to perfect his craft and the other is more concerned about the bigger picture to redefine his craft. And I believe, time and place is so important. I personally love Zaha Hadid’s architecture,
the performing centre in Abu Dhabi is incredible, what an achievement, what a statement. But after a while, after you have seen so many buildings that are of a similar vein, they can actually begin to leave you a little cold. You then really crave a return to planet earth and architecture that is a little more simple, warm, honest. You begin to re-appreciate the simplicity of one curve, like that on Wembley Stadium. That is my feelings on both of these cars. There is a time and place for both of them and for me, personally, they are both perfect as their statements are honest. I think both cars are representative of design at its highest levels, what bothers me more is the number of followers, those that don’t quite know what they are doing and end up jumping on whatever is hot at that particular moment, the me2 cars, of which there are many!
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