I’m pretty fond of that new Dodge Dart commercial that runs rapid-fire through the steps of designing a better car: "Kick out the committees. Call in the engineers. Call in the car guys. Call in the nerds," the announcer intones. It’s the rare car ad that focuses on the human process of designing a vehicle rather than simply showing off the final, machine-stamped product. But for singular British designer Ross Lovegrove, who was recently asked to envision a futuristic concept vehicle for the Biennale Interieur in Kortrijk, Belgium, that process would sound a bit different. Something like: "Forget everything we know about cars. Forget safety. Forget cargo. Forget wheels." And, most importantly, "Find the Genesis Form." Because for Lovegrove, the real concern was not really designing a car so much as undesigning it, stripping away the human influence to uncover the purest form of vehicular travel.
Turns out, that form looks kind of like a gigantic jelly bean. Or, in Lovegrove’s words, a "cocooning, womb-like biological shape"—a form which makes sense, considering the vehicle’s fundamental purpose as a means to transport humans safely and comfortable. By attempting to uncover the most organic, natural solution to the problem of carrying people from place to place, Lovegrove hopes that his piece can prompt audiences to rethink what a car can really be.
The concept is titled "Future Primitivism/Instinctive Overide," and, like the name suggests, Lovegrove’s process is one that’s concerned with both the elemental and the cutting-edge. The object itself is undeniably biological, like some sort of vehicle-sized cellular organism, but it’s accompanied by a dazzling projection of colorful lines, defining the form’s contours and impressing viewers with a sense of movement and speed. In fact, the projection, developed by the computational designers at Biothing, is a direct visualization of the aerodynamic properties of Lovegrove’s object, as tested by engineers at NASA. But in addition to simply illuminating the sleek object in a dark showroom, the projection also gives a sense of life to the vehicle. "It makes the form come alive like a luminescent deep ocean species," Lovegrove explains, "therefore enhancing its presence as…a more biological, botanical calm species rather than a heavy mechanical metallic object."
But while Lovegrove is deeply committed to uncovering an object’s "Genesis Form," he’s also interested in exploring how cutting-edge materials and high-tech manufacturing processes might help us actually implement some of these designs—or at least some of the insights they offer—in real products. The designer says he’s always trying to maintain "an understanding of how the digital process can help us create a new language of design for the times in which we live…a way of converging materials, technology and form holistically into design."
And as for clients? He says they’re "anxious to work with" a studio like his, one that focuses strictly on fundamental forms rather than nuts-and-bolts functionality and iterative design. As he describes his Biennale piece in an accompanying press release, it’s "a soft slow silent walk to view an object through the evolutionary spirit of mankind and its knowledge passed down through intuition and factors that seem more religious than mathematical."
Ultimately, in today’s automative world, practicality and mathematics will still win the day, and, at least in the near future, cars will go on looking like cars (where do you stow the stroller in a Genesis Form?!). But car companies would be smart to start thinking about some of the questions of process and elemental simplicity that Lovegrove’s concept raises, even if no one expects to be driving wheel-less jelly beans any time in the near future. Rather than an endless waterfall of new features, what if more mainstream car designs began with a new question: What can the perfect car do without?