Former BMW design chief Chris Bangle talks to us about art, and the reasoning behind the notorious Bangle butt
As part of The Wolfsonian art museum’s “Styled for the Road” weekend of automotive themed activities, we had the pleasure of listening to BMW’s former head of design, Chris Bangle, talk about cars as art. The first question that Mr. Bangle asked the audience is why can’t cars be art? Just because they are a functional aspect of our daily lives doesn’t mean that they don’t evoke emotion much like a painting or sculpture can. As a means of defending his argument, Mr. Bangle spent a bit of time applying the Duck Test, because after all if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, then why can’t a car be art.
A common misconception at this point in the story is differentiating between the terms car and automobile. The word automobile has only been around for the past 120 years and is used to describe a vehicle that can propel itself; in other words that thing you use to get from point A to point B as a purely functional part of your life can be considered an automobile. However the word car, which comes from the 2000 year old Roman term “carro” looks at the four wheeled machine in a whole new light. Simply put the car is a much more personal item, it is the thing you get what you wash on Saturday morning, it is the vehicle in which you can make an entrance and let the world know something about yourself.
Chris talks about how the car is an avatar, an object of personal expression that the owner feels a strong relationship with and serves as a significant part of their identity.
Continued after the jump.
Mr. Bangle then went on to highlight exactly why throughout history that cars look the way they do. Like most things in life there are constraints that we must live within. Back in the earliest days of automotive construction the material used was their limiting factor. Cars that were built in 1890 were made out of very strong planks of hardwood. For one thing this meant that curves were out of the question, and almost every car looked the same because they were basically small wooden sheds set atop a rolling platform that served more function than anything else. Fifty years later, it was science that began to determine the shape of cars. As we recognized the need for increased efficiency, aerodynamics began to influence car design and thanks to newfound metal working techniques, this meant that designers were able to create solid structures whose lines weren’t determined by 90 degree angles. Taking a note from boat designers who had been shaping vessels designed to move through the dense fluid with ease, automotive stylists quickly adopted the streamlined boat hull design into their car’s bodywork and started to become more about personal expression than pure function. In the year 2010 and beyond Mr. Bangle believes that it will be convenience that dictates what future automotive designers will be doing. According to Chris the next generation of cars are going to be more about personal convenience and identity than transportation, so it will be more about what can I do in my car and what can it do for me, literally, then ever before.
Break the rules and don’t be afraid to try new ideas, these are the acts that push for new technologies. Chris claims that painting an automobile is just about one of the most wasteful processes in automotive construction. There was a design study he showed us of car, on one side the body was smooth and the other made from a series of planes that followed the same general design. What he pointed out is that even though the car was a bit unconventional, it did show off a few interesting features. Not only was the alternative side of the car pleasing to the eye, even though both sides were covered in the same shade of silver, each half looked distinct and the squares also served to create a very interesting series of highlights that made it even more interesting than the more traditional surface, not to mention that painting the flat panels is a much more efficient process.
When BMW came up with the idea for the GINA concept car, they wanted to dispel the notion that a car had to have solid skin. Unlike almost every clay based concept car that came before, the goal of Geometry In N(number meaning whatever you want it to be) Applications was to use a new material that would allow the vehicle’s exterior to change shape and be able to make a multitude of different expressions. Underneath GINA’s soft skin sits a full BMW Z8 roadster chassis, the large sheet of fabric created a continuous blanket around the concept and its translucent nature allowed for the vehicle’s exterior to remain devoid of light clusters or even gaps. One area of concern that was raised by those who were less enlightened than Mr. Bangle is that because of GINA’s unbroken fabric exterior opening the doors would result in wrinkles, something that the brass at BMW were very concerned about because of its unconventional nature. As it turns out, not only did Chris like the waves he created, but the BMW design Chief also received a lot of compliments about them from the public. As part of the slide show, Chris showed us the new 3 Series that could have been, and guess what, the proposed design’s shining silver exterior was not made up of a large lump of clay, but instead a large piece of cloth stretched around a metal skeleton. The best part is that we never would have known unless he showed us the photo to prove it.
When Chris Bangle and his German design team were asked to come up with a proposal for the new Mini, as opposed to taking the conservative approach like the competition over at Rover in England, they decided to have fun with the idea and just draw the classic Cooper in as many variations as possible.
By breaking the rules and going against convention, the Krauts were able to out Brit the English design team.
Sometimes engineering necessitates new design.
As was the case with the Bangle butt, new engine lineup necessitated an additional bulge in the front arches that was evened out with some additional sheet metal in the back to balance out the luxury limousine’s lines.
As times continue to change so will the shape of cars. As Chris pointed out, when Enzo Ferrari first went to the Italian design house Pininfarina about wrapping his high performance machines with gorgeous metal bodies he was at the will of their artisans as to what his cars would look like, however these days it is hard to imagine that Ferrari is accepting any notes at all. So as times change and what people want in an automobile change along with them, the shape of cars will continuously be evolving.
He finished off the lecture by briefly recanting the tale of Pygmalion and Galatea, where an ancient Greek sculptor is so in love with his ivory creation that he prays to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty and sexuality. At long last when he embraces the female figure and gave it a kiss that transformed the inanimate object into a living, breathing beauty that he named Galatea. What Chris was trying to say is that car designers of the future need to strive for the same level of passion as Pygmalion in their own work, something that appears he has been very successful at achieving.