Thursday, March 03, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen: Jason Castriota and the Post-Functional World!

Remember discipline?

For a while, from the late 1960s through the '80s, the notion played a role, at least. I'm talking super/concept cars here. Even the most outrageous, impractical designs adhered to a sort of inner logic. I mean, not to be a total dick about it, but there was an element of intellectual rigor at work there, an insistence on formal purity that kept these cars from being simply exercises in frivolity or vanity.

It's possible, I guess, that this minimalist philosophy represented something of a dead-end street: that by the time Giugiaro rolled out his Lotus Etna, for instance, pictured above, supercar form had been reduced to a degree whence there was simply no further place to go.

Back on earth, the jellybean production cars of the '80s and '90s gave way to the new millennium's slab-sided crossovers, and vehicles grew ever taller and broader to accommodate their occupants' increasing girth and demands of invulnerability. Vast featureless sheetmetal planes cried out for relief. Which brought us where we find ourselves today, awash in a visual cacophony of comically exaggerated wheel surrounds, gratuitous sculptural elements, and, right, "flame surfacing."

It's not surprising that the pendulum has swung back from the form-follows-function restraint of Giugiaro and his contemporaries; the current of surfeit of automotive expressionism finds precedent both in the art deco flourishes of French and Italian coachbuilders of the 1930s and later, in the flamboyant kitsch of 1950s American designers, who, much like their current-day counterparts, seemed less concerned with beauty than with achieving a kind of maximum visual volume.

But something's different this time around, too. I recall reading about the F-117 stealth fighter back when it was initially declassified, about the way its freakishly multifaceted (and un-aerodynamic) radar-reflective surfaces were made possible by fly-by-wire systems capable of compensating for the airframe's inherent instability, and I remember thinking well shit: if computers are fast enough now to keep that thing in the air, how long before airplanes don't have to look at all like airplanes anymore? How long until we have planes that look like clouds, or birds — or toasters, or a hot dog?

Similarly, the technology of automotive design has seemingly rendered obsolete over the course of the last thirty years the purity of form that the move toward aerodynamic efficiency beginning in the early 1980s had made de rigueur. Back in the day, you wanted a sub-.25 drag coefficient, you ended up with something that looked like a pregnant porpoise. Now, though, mix in a little computational fluid dynamics and you can crank out something as overwrought and incoherent as Mr Castriota's latest "aeromotional" nonsense. Or, yes, a Cadillac that looks like a stealth fighter! It's like the shackles that have forever bound form to function have been loosed — we are living in a post-functional world. Cars can look like anything!

For me then it raises a simple question: why don't they look better?


Blogger Davis Chino said...

Wouldn't you know it'd take a JASON to bring us to this new low?

But then, how could someone raised on edutainment notembrace aeromotion??

Very well argued piece. This decoupling between form and function has alarming implications. Is the significance just beginning to be felt? What will the reaction be?

It's one of the reasons I respect the Prius--it's an appliance. Or was, before the styling update.

I want to see the opposite of this! I want clean, narrow, anti-aggressive styling!

(re: the PhoeniX [ BTW, what a horrible name--is it a SaaB??] I do like the echoes of the Daytona rear end, where the deckline pulls a taut curve over the emerging fullness of the car's ass--like the skirt of tennis player hiking up as she follows through on her serve--evocative!--but then you look at the incredible taper of the greenhouse and wonder, "what the hell happened to a useful hatchback? Can I do a grocery run in this object d'art?" Sigh.)

p.s.I thought we already had flying hot dogs?

12:58 PM  
Blogger Davis Chino said...

re: comically exaggerated wheel arches, I credit the AMC Javelin.

It looks good here! (But on the big Mercedes, not so much...)

(secret word is ablueted...which is the metal-forming process that AMC used on those fenders)

1:08 PM  
Blogger June said...

I recently got to fulfill a fantasy when I got a tour around Seattle in one of these:
It was everything you'd imagine.

Now the question: is is OK to date a guy who is nice but there's no chemistry, if he sports you around in his Lotus (OR his Ducati??) I'm so tempted to say yes.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always loved '80s car designs. They were angular and geometric, but had just the right amount of soft curves in the right spots. Is "discipline" the actual name of a style movement, and are there any good books to learn about it?

3:26 AM  

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