The prestigious MA in Vehicle Design at London’s Royal College of Art is in its fourth decade and has trained many of the most influential car designers in the industry.
The annual degree show is always fascinating. And that’s not just because these students should be some of the best in world, it also gives a very good idea of what’s on the mind of a new generation of designers, who will start having an influence on the industry over the next few years.
Indeed, over the last few years, I’ve certainly noticed a recurring theme at the RCA. The new generation are much less interested in the car as a pure driving experience. They also show much more interest in how cars can be more customizable and how they might shape shift.
There’s also a lot of interest in super-low tech cars that reject the use of ever more finely finished materials for more basic structures made from recycled materials. And with students from nearly every corner of the world, they bring with them local ideas and concerns.
There’s also a more recent theme among recent RCA student work that a car can also be seen as a private space (a result, perhaps, of them being known as ‘Generation rent’) and somewhere to relax and that might, one day, autonomously drive the occupants away from the stress of the city.
This year's graduates include Daniel Quinlan, whose ‘honest electric vehicle’ is a clever proposal for a design that exposes all the elements that make up an electric vehicle. Most innovative is reworking battery cells so they make up an exposed honeycomb structure that is also the core structure of the car. The proposal for laser etching away part of the bubble canopy is very interesting because it apparently strengthens the glass at that point, despite taking material away.
Francesco Binaggia’s flight of fancy has two people being carried in an autonomous car inside a nest – or floating in a cloud. This may look mad, but his logic – that it is designed to help people "re-discover genuine and simple sensory sensations…for a new analogue life experience" – shows how much time this generation has spent on-line. But, for them, escaping to the countryside will mean being driven there in luxury, rather than driving.
Hoe young Hwang’s ‘Super Normal’ Bentley hints at another swing reaction to digital dominance. He said he was fascinated by the ‘English Wheel’ which is used to hand-form aluminium panels and his proposal was a "revolt against the absence of a thinking hand" in vehicles created digitally. The Bentley’s wild glasshouse was inspired by the WW2 B-52 bomber.
Moulding the structure of a budget car in one piece is being kicked around in the industry and Inkook Jung takes the idea one step further by building a short lifespan car with recycled materials, further driving down the build costs.
There are two new takes on motorcycles at the RCA, Pierre Andlauer’s Analog-E which aims to bring back the kind of interaction experienced by a rider and a horse. Ex-Architect Nicholas Dunderdale’s Mercedes Rainmaster is a two-wheeler, with all the batteries and tech in the side panels, leaving open frame. He also envisages two Rainmasters joined together.
Ji Won Yun’s Maserati concept is a "low-fat premium design that rejects superficial luxury and gets away from excessive overwhelming ornamentation."
Two Chinese students looked at transport that’s unique to the mega-cities of China. Zishi Han Project Rhizome looks at the local three-wheel motorcycle-based unofficial taxis and proposes a properly engineered base platform, which can then be locally customized.
Yuan Fang looks at the opposite end of inner city transport with a ‘semi-public’ luxury transport system for ‘vertical megacities’ such as his home city of Shenzhen that runs from building to building on maglev lines.