Shaping the SEAT character into the future…
We talked with Luc Donckerwolke on the SEAT stand at the 2008 Brussels Motor Show... with the Tribu prototype in the background
At the Brussels show, the Seat Director of Design at SEAT was also present. Of course, we took the occasion to have a short talk with him about car design… and the « Iberic » design spirit.
Q : The Seat brand poses new challenges for you. Will you also introduce an « Iberic » or « Spanish » design language in the styling of the future Seat cars ? One has only to think about the Spanish thoroughbreds as the Pegaso, cars which have unique and typical design elements….
A : Looking at the staff of my design department, which totals 100 persons, I have one Italian colleague, one Englishman, one German, and all the rest are Spanish…so this is in the cards !
Your question is very interesting, as I have always asked myself what makes a car styling « typical ». It depends on the working methods of the designers, on the personality of the (chief) stylists, it depends also on the techniques and the materials used.
For example, Italian designers work often with plaster models, and also design along perpendicular planes. This is the reason why the great Italian cars are quite architectural, if you forgive me this expression. The car were designed using a vertical front and rear plane and horizontal top view. Therefore, if you look at an Italian Classic car, it will look very harmonious from the front, from the back, and from above. Sometimes when seen from a three-dimensional perspective the lines are not so well-balanced. This gives these cars a unique personality, and there is nothing wrong with that.
When looking at German design(ers), the designs are well worked out in their volumes. The cars look solid, weighty. The Italians will work (on) the flow of the lines, the Germans on the volumes. The French will give the volumes a certain rhytm, a certain sculptural lightness. Looking at the Pegaso, I see many similarities with Italian styling, but not a constant search for aesthetical solutions at any price.
Q : Some baroque elements are introduced…
A : Indeed, that is the right word for it. Just look at the air intakes of the Pegaso.
Q : It is not very elegant, but it certainly has character.
A : Your appreciation is correct… and in the present day Seats, one sees convex and concave or hollow forms which can be seen as typical for an Iberic « design » language.
Typical Spanish design language : just take a look at the flamboyant and somewhat baroque styling of this 1951 Pegaso Z 102 Barcelona…
Q : Indeed, when looking at the recent Seats, the rear lights are reminiscent of the shape of the horns of a bull… one sees the sloping lines of the head of a bull
A : This is very interesting, I never looked at it this way, you make me see the design of a car another way…I will analyse this further. It is a fact that the subconscious analyses and translates without controlling it or knowing it certain images, shapes, which it then introduces almost instinctively into the lines and forms or volumes of a model or design. This is a positive thing.
The rear lights and the boot shape of the Seat Altea are reminiscent of the shapes of bull heads and horns..here you see our test car of which you will read a report soon on this site...
It is a fact that I was surprised to see that the Seat design team was very « national » so to speak, but as the team is very homogeneous, there is no need to internationalize it. I have put for myself the challenge to adapt myself to this team, rather than going my own way(s).
Of course the Tribu is the ambassador of the new tendencies and my vision on it, it is the evolution of the DNA of Seat, and you will see this DNA evolve further in the future Ibiza and other new models, which will all have a distinctive styling and personality.
And what You have told me, when I return, I will see how what you have described can be adapted in the shapes of the future. Very interesting !
The side view of the Seat Altea, with the swooping side line, which one sees back in the drawings of the bull by Picasso hereunder...look also at the similar length and height proportions!
Q : Is there a role for European Design in the global arena. For the US and Asian markets ?
A : Certainly, one sees that the Orient needs the European or Western creativtiy. Oriental societies emphasize collective behaviour, whereas in our societies the individual is paramount. Style is the expression of this individuality, and many oriental car companies and groups have therefore hired European design teams. They have their pride and drive to adapt and learn quickly, and they are also using European architects to design the buildings of the Beiing Olympic games for example. This proves that they accept the contribution of the west as long as there is talent behind it. A European car also represents prestige in these markets.
Look at the peculiar shape of the gear lever of the Seat Altea Freetrack, Iberic baroque is lying in your hands...
Q : What do you think of the designs of Laurens van den Acker ?
A : I was in Detroit on Sunday, and I saw his work. He is a good friend, we worked together at Audi. It is very interesting, as they have created a new very typical and individual DNA. I am quite anxious to see their designs « on the road », in traffic. They work very hard on this and this is the big challenge too.
Their style is very flamboyant, sculptural and biological, with the special treatment of the surfaces. I like this very personal style very much.
The question is, one has to design cars which make an optimal use of a given three-dimensional space, and it will be very difficult to translate this style when you have space constraints or requirements in your design. I am very curious to see how they will solve these problems.
Q : Does the language of artists tell you anything, does this inspire you when designing a car ? What does for example an artist like Tapies tell you ?
A : I am very interested in painting, and my fiancé is a painter, but I have to admit that the two-dimentional art and even more so the colours have little influence on me.
I am more attracted to the three-dimensional purity of machines, pure technology, and even more military machines, military mechanical objects and even weapons, as there are no styling aspects in their design. I like the purity of their function, devoid of any styling. This very pure functionality I try to translate in emotion. This inspires me more than the use of colour, which translates the three-dimentional into two dimensions, which one has to translate back again into sculptural forms. I am also less sensitive to colours, At least, I have less problems with it than other designers. For example, at Lamborghini I reintroduced bold colours of the past like the pistache green of the Miuras, I also reintroduced the Kiwi green of the former Seat Ibiza rallye cars.
The deeply recessed instruments of the Altea dashboard..Iberic" form language... see also...the "holed" windows of the Casa Battlo in Barcelona...
I am rather fascinated by volumes, and I would rather concentrate on how to lose the (importance of) colour. This is the reason why I am interested in the use of matte colours again, as is the trend nowadays. They bring forward the sculptural aspect, whereas brilliant colours distract from it.
Q : What cars did and still do inspire you ?
A : I am more inspired by the purity of the function, as I told you, and this goes back to weapons or military purely functional objects. I am also fascinated by their gunmetal blue colour.
The Ibiza Vaillante and Luc Donckerwolke: sports cars of the 70s are his inspiration...
Talking about cars, I prefer the bolides of the sixties and seventies, the racing cars until the 70s. For example the Bugatti « Tank » of the 30s, the Ford GT 40, the Porsche 917, the Bizzarinis…
Q : And the « Uhlenhaut » Mercedes 300 SLR ?
A : Exactly, I also have a collection of scale models. I focus mostly on cars with a scale of 1/12th, I like the bigger scale because it represents better the volumes. I also like to participate in historic events and rallyes, and it is this pure emotion one experiences behind the wheel at these occasions which motivates me for the future. It is this passion which inspires me, the passion in preserving and restoring these cars, like the efforts by Roland D’Ieteren in restoring his Pegaso. I discussed with him long hours about this car, and got impressed by the unique personality of the Pegaso, it has something of an Aston DB2, of a Ferrari 166 M, but it is such a specific cocktail…
Q : Talking about the « age of cars » what period do you like most ?
A : I would say, the period of the « gentlemen drivers » ; these well-dressed men who rolled up their sleeves and drove and repaired their cars, who had respect for these cars and who enjoyed the pure emotion of driving them. Cars are not there to provoke, but to be enjoyed and driven and used in a responsible manner, for society and environment. I want to contribute to this, in the most sincere way possible…
Q : We thank you for this interview.
A : And please come to Geneva, You will see a re-emergence of the original Seat spirit and heritage !
Hans Knol ten Bensel
In recent Seats, one sees the organic shapes and baroque fluent design, reminiscent also of Seats sporting heritage and also pointing to the future...
The sporting SEAT "DNA" will be further emphasised in the styling