In today’s earlier blog, I mentioned how the purist modernism that dominates architecture never found its way into the automotive industry.
There were, though, a couple of conceptual attempts by architects and modernists to refine the car. Le Corbusier – who thought the man in the street should live in a ‘habitation unit’ 10 floors up – had a go himself.
Le Corbusier’s car was quite a severe geometric exercise that was a sort of halfway house between the 2CV and Beetle, though it pre-dated prototypes of both by a decade and quite possibly influenced both.
A rather more cutting edge concept was Buckminister Fuller’s Dymaxion car. An architect and author, Fuller is probably best known for inventing the geodesic dome and was widely celebrated for his inventiveness, originality and his pioneering ideas around sustainability.
In 1933 Fuller showed his Dymaxion concept. An uncompromising 20ft-long teardrop shape, it could hold 11 people and rode on three wheels, two at the front and one at the rear. Even more bizzarely, the Dymaxion was front wheel drive and powered by a rear-mounted Ford V8 engine.
Fuller saw the car as a kind of high-speed and frugal people carrier, though the prototype was said to be unstable at high speeds. It was involved in an accident at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, killing the driver.
Three prototypes were built, but only No2 survived. After being exhibited in the US over the last few decades it has been in the UK since last year for a rebuild by Crosthwaite and Gardiner, the geniuses behind the re-created Audi Silver Arrows racers.
However, there’s a twist in the tale of the Dymaxion. In an interview today with Guardian’s Jonathan Glancey, architect Lord Foster reveals that he has commissioned Crosthwaite and Gardiner to build him a replica of the Dymaxion.
“I've admired the look and the idea of these cars for many years,” he said. “Yes, they were flawed, but they were a brave attempt to connect the car to architecture. They were just astonishing.”
It seems Foster met Fuller four decades ago and worked on various projects with him.
Although Foster lives in Switzerland, his practice offices are just down the road from me in Battersea. I look forward to seeing him piloting the Dymaxion down Chelsea’s Kings Road.
It might be 20ft long, but it apparently can U-turn in its own length. Come to think of it, maybe the Dymaxion could finally come into its own as a replacement for the Black cab.