Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2013

Cars don’t really belong at the Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milan, amongst the designers, architects, sculptors and artists at the world’s largest and most influential furniture fair. And the people who build them realize this, although it’s something they’re keen to change.

The process is quite easy in theory but, like most things, will be very difficult to pull off in reality. Engage a fresher, wider audience by having a presence outside of motor shows. Appeal to their tastes and ideals with engaging and intuitive design. When the time comes, sell them your cars.

This year saw installations from Hyundai, Renault, Mazda, Lexus, BMW, Citroen and MINI, who all had a considerable presence and used varying mediums to exhibit ingenuity. Some used cars, most didn’t, but they’re all trying hard to express themselves  – and the ideal reflection of their philosophies – both outside of the automotive sphere and to a growing international audience that is sensitive to both aesthetic and ecologically sound design.

BMW i Quiet Motion

The BMW i installation at Milan was comfortably the most abstract expression of ethos amongst the carmakers. The work of Breton designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, the idea behind Quiet Motion was to reflect the experiential side to BMW i products – so far the i3 and i8 – and the sizeable structure was appropriately sited in one of the muraled cloisters belonging to the Theological Faculty of Northern Italy. Sustainability, calm and movement are themes that feature heavily, and physical inspiration comes from cogs and gears.

It’s not unusual for car companies to play the field in terms of metaphorical design projects – BMW, more than most, have history with the diverse Art Car projects – but what is unusual is for them to then take a back seat. “These cooperations offer us a chance to enter into a dialogue with creatives”, acknowledges Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW’s Dutch head of design, but admits, “we didn’t want to force anything from them. We said ‘look at what we do, and think about something for Milan that is to do – in a wider sense – with BMW i’”. The resulting expression of BMW i through art is entirely of the Bouroullec brothers’ doing.

“They do products, we do cars, but our mindsets are not too far apart,” says Benoit Jacob on the collaboration, whilst sitting, and slowly revolving, on one of the four carousels. Jacob has been head of design for BMW i design since 2010, and is acutely aware that cars such as the i3 can appeal to more than the traditional crowd. Step inside the i3, for example, with its sculpted panels and bench seating arrangement and it’s clear that the entire project has been heavily influenced by the world of product, and specifically furniture, design.

Aside from the cork platform, all the materials that make up the installation can are found in the i3 and i8, even down the soft, olive leaf extract-treated leather that covers the circular seating area. The roofs of the carousels are painted in the same weather-resistant BMW i paint used for the cars' bodywork, whilst the underside is upholstered in BMW i roof liner and a carbon fibre column connects the platform with the roof. Perhaps most appropriately, the entire installation is powered by silent electric motors. Cork, incidentally, is under consideration for use in cars due to its excellent acoustic and thermal management properties, says Jacob.

Due to a relatively minimalistic overall design, it’s an installation that can be easily dismantled and reassembled, meaning that Quiet Motion could go on tour in the future.


MINI’s intricate installation chose to explore the metamorphosis that its cars undergo from design concept to being part of someone’s life. The rather absorbing consequence is a bisected Paceman, with the exploded rear components representing design and engineering whilst the origami front half illustrates MINI’s position as both a lifestyle brand and part of contemporary culture.

The intricacy of the ‘real’ half of the Paceman is fairly astonishing, with a woven lattice of threads (above) and round head pins shadowing the car and also depicting the team of super-sized designers, led by Anders Warming, on the back wall. Thicker red cables contrast these tiny threads.

MINI say that KAPOOOW! ultimately narrates the birth of the Paceman. It was designed and built by Jeannette Ohlhaeuser and Thomas Wu in Munich and then transported, whole, to Milan.

Hyundai Fluidic Sculpture in Motion

12,000 translucent orbs combine to transform Hyundai’s ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design language – until now the preserve of its rakish concept cars - into ‘interactive performance art’.

Reminiscent of Jim Campbell’s Exploded View, where perspective and chance are all-important, Hyundai’s piece has more to it than meets the eye. In a thoroughly violet ambiance, eight lasers, which perform on a seven-minute loop, surround the installation and the entire unit is suspended over a small body of water. After a light shower of simulated virtual rain, the ‘interactive’ bit happens, where the lasers illuminate different orbs in response human gestures. When there’s more than a couple of people it’s not immediately obvious who’s doing what, but it’s all made possible by a 3D scanning system that registers body warmth and orchestrates the lasers correspondingly.

Renault Twin’Z Concept

The aim was to break down the boundaries between the world of an object whose calling is to be in movement – the automobile – and that of furniture - Laurens van den Acker

This trippy little Renault is quite memorable, at least in the context of the fickle, mad-hatter world of automotive concepts. The seats are green carbon fibre frames that have germinated out of the floor, it rides on branching fluorescent wheels with each tiny spoke ending in the eye of a needle, and Ross Lovegrove’s sinuous use of light is supreme. All combine to tell you that the Twin’Z is inspired by nature. It’s quaint - and the ‘nature’ card is wheeled out by car manufacturers with metronomic frequency - but there’s no doubt that the finished product is fascinating.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the powertrain is entirely electric, particularly considering what a wonderfully accomplished piece of product design Renault’s innovative ZOE is (head to page 10), but the Twin’Z is really inspired by the first-generation Twingo and much loved 5 – superminis that broke the mould in their day.

Range is 160km whilst top speed is a convenient 130kph, and although an aesthetically neutered production version to hit the roads next year – in both petrol and electric guise - let’s just enjoy the psychedelic original for now. 

Apart from the Yves Klein IKB 191 monochrome-inspired paintjob, the highlight is the PMMA-formed roofscape. 5mm thick, PMMA is already used in car headlights but its application to the roof was the hardest part of the project, according to Renault’s Vietnamese concept car project manager, Minh Au Truong. The same material is used on the rear light clusters.

The interior has been quite brutally dematerialised, and whilst car designers have for quite some time been talking about interior simplification - we’re currently overloaded by technology and applications inside our cars – it’s encouraging to see it in practice.

This means that everything you might find on a conventional dashboard – heating, seat adjustment, headlights etc - is neatly undertaken by a single touchscreen tablet, positioned where you might normally find a gearstick.

Existing as a single, almost unbroken, entity, the interior architecture is linked by highlighted milled lines that “describe a flow of energy”, mapping out the cabins topographic forms. It’s almost in the style of the windswept sandstone formations seen in various deserts – solid, but impossibly supple. With the suicide doors fully ajar, it’s a treat for the eyes.

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