Milan Design Week 2008 - Auto Trend

Milan, Italy, is the home to the annual Salone Internazionale del Mobile, which in the last few years has been adequately dubbed Milan Design Week. What once used to be a fairground full of furniture design has become a city bustling with design events and innovation, and the auto industry’s new design darling. As has recently been the trend the number of car companies experimenting with design awards and promotions during the design week has been steadily increasing. Milan offers neutral ground and an automotive unsaturated platform from which automakers can touch the design community and crossover into other markets. This year’s automotive participants were Mini, Citroën, Lexus, VW and automotive textile manufacturer Alcantara.

Mini has been one of the main sponsors of Milan’s Design Week for more than 4 years. Usually quite inspiring and visually present this year the only sign of Mini were their sponsored fleet that shipped VIPs and journalists around town, 2 temporary shops selling their paraphernalia via gspot in the famous Zona Tortona, and a stand promoting their awards at the Triennale. It’s a shame because their name could have given the young designers participating in their Mini Design Award 2008 a real voice and venue to communicate the all important message of the competition; “The Future of Our Cities: the environment. Giving Water Value”. Instead, the bad weather and alternatively more interesting events overshadowed their efforts.

Citroën’s design award venue was far more breathtaking! The entries of the participants of Citroën’s competition “C-Design: Combine, Connect, Create” were shown on the 31st floor gallery space of Milan’s famous Pirelli Skyscraper, or as Italians call it the Pirellone. The quintessentially Milanese building, designed in 1950 by Gio Ponti was commissioned by Alberto Pirelli, president of the Pirelli Company, and later sold to the Lombardy Regional Authority. It has been recently refurbished after a light plane crashed into it in 2002 and re-opened to the public in 2005. 10 finalists’s work was on display with the top three winners being Ognyan Bozhilov, Roland Kaufman, and Valerio Stramaccioni.

First place went to Bozhilov’s Citroën Sledge, a functional and fun sledge that uses car components from a series of Citroën cars, the seat comes from the C4 Picasso and the doors frames of the C3 Pluriel. Unwittingly the final product appeals to issues of recycling and reusing in the automotive arena, instead of trying to find complicated ways of recycling cars perhaps these amusing and entertaining solutions could be a provocative alternative. Second prize was awarded to Kaufman for his Citroën Drain, a manhole cover using the graphic language of the wheel rim of the C4, and third prize went to Stramaccioni and his ç-parè a room divider made with car windows and 3M Optical Film reshapes and redirects light in the home, office, or any interior space. The remaining 7 entries were also on display at the show enhancing the general theme of the exhibition, ‘because only design can create design’.

Lexus, also in its fourth year, has become a pro at launching design events during the Milan Design Week. They have a clear vision of where the design of their cars comes from and stay true to their Japanese roots and culture. This is a winning formula for a show in Milan, a city that appreciates the philosophical artistic nuances and subtleties of Japanese design. The Lexus L-finesse “elastic diamond” art exhibition was set in Milan’s Museo della Permanente and designed by Oki Sato founder of nendo, a Tokyo and Milan based product design firm. Inspired by the L-finesse philosophy, the intensity of being ‘leading-edge’ and the depth of ‘finesse’, that governs the design of Lexus cars, Sato took one of the strongest materials in nature, the diamond, and made it light and elastic. By using the intrinsic structure of a diamond and playing around with different expressive forms and functions Sato developed living and moving objects that were whimsical and sensitive. Three main pieces were the ‘diamond chair’, made by rapid-prototyping shown onsite, ‘diamond bubble’, a structure that opened and closed with a blue light as if it were breathing, and the ‘diamond lamp’, a sparkling light fixture made from polyvinyl. The simple organic movements, low lighting, and ‘breathing’ diamonds made everyone calm as they entered the space and visitors moved around the pieces in awe and silence, appreciating the introspective elegance of the space.

The car model, based on the LF-Hh Hybrid Drive concept car presented at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, was painted in an all-black coating that reflected the living polypropylene towers surrounding it, giving the car a mysterious aura. These ‘diamond pillars’ also expanded and contracted every so softly highlighting the peaceful yet technologically advanced design that goes into Lexus vehicles. If you ask Lexus they will tell you that there are three important characteristics that represent the design direction behind their brand, Seamless Anticipation (anticipating customer’s desires and feelings), Incisive Simplicity (removing any extraneous elements), and Intriguing Elegance (Japanese luxury), and its is that experience with which one left the show.

The last two car-related events hosted during Milan’s hectic design week were VW’s Up! Design Sustainability and Alcantara Lab’s ‘Live’ event in Zona Tortona.

The VW Up! Design Sustainability display felt “unfinished”, or put up at very last minute, like a student show. Following the lead of the other car-makers above VW, specifically Walter da Silva wanted to “[break] free from the closed world of motor shows, opening the door to the aesthetics and discourses of contemporary industrial design”. In fact this was meant to be his show, but he never made it to the venue, Fondazione Mudima, near Corso Buenos Aires. The exhibition showcased VW’s new Up! design and philosophy direction, which is an introspective look into VW’s heritage with a distinctive ‘Bauhaus’ flavour, in an effort to break free from Murat Gunak’s design legacy. Flavio Manzoni, Head of Creative Design at the VW’s North Group, said that the new direction was designed to ‘provoke change’ by returning to minimalism and purist design, without of course voiding the product of character. Although the name of the show was ‘Design Sustainability’ there were no obvious green signs that would reflect sensibility to the environment aside from the car’s better fuel efficiency. One had to go Up!stairs to see the ‘eco’ gallery presented by Italian designers. All in all we were confused as to why, given the chance to open a new door on the future of design, of green automotive design, would VW look back to a heritage where that technology and visual language doesn’t exist. Given the chance to lead, and create their own new Bauhaus, they have taken to the safety and familiarity of a 90 years old design philosophy. It is a cliché, but only time will tell what VW’s green future looks like.

Quite a popular stop in Zona Tortona, Alcantara Lab featured a ‘live’ journey of the production process of their fabrics building on their marketing efforts to showcase their products as ‘Extraordinary’. The process was shown by graphically printing the production steps on their own fabrics thus highlighting the technological potential of their product. No doubt this journey may be interesting for industry people but the exhibition lacked the X-factor that sparks people’s imagination, quite unlike last year’s event where a retrospective of Italian concept cars would have made any visitor green with envy!