The complex rules of aesthetic beauty

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Carlo Bonzanigo’s take on cars, design and dreams

The complex rules of aesthetic beauty
Torino, 4 ottobre 2021 - Carlo Bonzanigo. © CdT/Gabriele Putzu

The complex rules of aesthetic beauty

Torino, 4 ottobre 2021 - Carlo Bonzanigo. © CdT/Gabriele Putzu

A child takes a step, still unsteady on his legs, towards a basket full of toys. He looks at them, touches them and grabs the one he likes best: a toy car. Among all of the toys, he feels a special something towards this one. He eventually grows up and among all the consumer goods he acquires in his life, he invests the highest amount in a real car. Why? The book Automobili Design ed Emozioni (Cars, Design and Emotions) by the automotive designer Carlo Bonzanigo can be considered as a broad and detailed answer to this simple question. And through a philosophical ramble that has boggled mankind’s greatest minds for millennia, the author’s vision achieves simplicity: in his words, his language, and his style. While discussing the book, one understands the underlying modesty of Bonzanigo’s mindset, underscored by a long and successful adventure at Pininfarina (up to Vice-President of Design), and through prestigious assignments in France, such as Chief Designer at the Centre de Création Citroën in Vélizy and subsequently Maître Expert Design of the PSA Group and then Stellantis. From the very onset his founding conviction is clear. Through a multi-disciplinary prism and calibrated symmetries it moves or changes the approach, leaving the outcome of his long experience firm: «I believe that aesthetic beauty is subject to complex rules and that every thrilling creation of style, intended as a provocative visual gratification, must respect these rules. And this applies to any aesthetic work created by man: an architecture, a painting, an object of industrial design, a sculpture, a landscape». An unpleasant epigram nowadays, where a subjective Weltanschauung dominates, in which everyone is the author of beauty and hears no reason.

The complex rules of aesthetic beauty

Bonzanigo certainly does not forget the Zeitgeist, and the inevitable historical and cultural influences that impact the criteria of judgement and, with them, the aesthetic satisfaction, but the importance of this is subject to a formal «rule» that brings eras and places closer together: «My personal belief is that a set of artistic solutions related to a specific era can be assembled in such a way as to generate either beauty or a completely different result. So while ancient Greek feminine beauty standards may have differed from those of the Renaissance, no era has ever preferred a body that was disproportionate to a perfectly poised one. When we compare two examples of female beauty that are separated by 1500 hundred years, such as the Venus of Milo, sculpted by Alexander of Antioch in 130 B.C., and Botticelli’s 1485 depiction of Venus in his painting The Birth of Venus, we notice that - regardless of the differences - both works are well-balanced, well-proportioned and very pleasing». From here, with a swift temporal and disciplinary leap, we arrive at the three-part design formalized by Professor Donald A. Norman of Northwestern University - visceral, behavioral, reflexive - and particularly to its state of being that unites men of all ages and places in their aesthetic perception because it nourishes itself from a natural, pure reaction, unaffected by both cultural features and fashions. And this element, which is unique, follows an art of golden proportion, which, if governed by those who create, produces unavoidable satisfaction for the observer.

Most of the appeal which the book raises - playing with volumes, surfaces and graphic signs of rhetoric - comes from the progressive unraveling of the relationship that exists between rules of form and emotions, in focusing on understanding as a generator of aesthetic gratification. «You can make a well-designed car, though unattractive, that doesn’t thrill», Carlo points out. «The car molecule has three atoms, which must be balanced with each other: technical innovation, product content, and design. Even if it originates from a purely individual creative act, it quickly becomes a team project to be realised in an industrial context. Nevertheless, it is only now that we are fully aware of just how decisive style can be on a commercial level, since neuroscience has demonstrated an agreement between emotional design and the visual pleasure that drives choice. Even under the lenses of market research, it caused a sensation when J.D. Power and Associates declared that aesthetics were the primary reason for buying a car. Admittedly, General Motors had already created a style center headed by Harley Earl in 1927, but we had to wait until the 1990s to see the complete liberation of design from its engineering departments, and Italian Bruno Sacco was one of the early pioneers of this creative acknowledgement». In Chapter 4, titled «From Creative Magma to Aesthetic Clarity», Bonzanigo’s book has its regulatory center, where we observe the faculty of judgment eroding and guiding the demon of creation. We shall leave our readers to the pleasure of investigating this in detail. But the question remains: why are cars the quintessential emotional object? «I’ve always wanted to become a car designer and my dream was the fulfilled dream of many of the young people of the time. The reason is linked to the overwhelming emotional impact of the automobile, indeed visceral, insofar as it becomes a symbol of individual freedom, to the strength of identification that associates the vehicle to the goals of those who drive it. A dynamic self-projection. In actual fact, we designers are the leaders of emotions capable of shaping them into a vehicle that serves others». A driver, something that «leads together», as suggested by the Latin name suggests. An emotional participation that from my observatory took form at the Ortigia Design Festival, when I met fellow journalist and art critic Angelo Crespi, only to discover he had recently reviewed Bonzanigo’s book.

A conversation about the dictatorship of bad taste was sparked off by the echoes of Gómez Dávila, who, with the devilish drive of marketing, fed the universal paradigms of measurement to the desires of the fashion cult. But the counterproof is time, which always beats the spirit of the time. A work of art, especially when it comes to design, is immaculate when it emerges from the dust of the years and retains intact a stylistic eloquence that communicates with an instantaneous brilliance. If we look at the Maserati Granturismo of 2007 - at that time, Bonzanigo was Design Manager of the project at Pininfarina - it is as seductive as the very first day and will remain so, with its placid aggressiveness, its proud flexibility as if it were a fairground car at rest. And while we were wondering about the most beautiful car of all time, in all its different sensitivities - for one person it might have been the 1956 Maserati A6GCS Berlinetta by Pininfarina, for another the BMW 507 by Albrecht von Goertz or the Zagato Lancia Flaminia Supersport - a common language of taste commanded obedience to the timeless and heavenly sprint of design, when governed by a master. Bonzanigo’s book is full of masters and masterpieces, and while the splendid photographs of the Talbot-Lago T150-CSS «Goutte d’Eau» of 1937 and the Delahaye Type 165 Roadster of 1939, both designed by Figoni and Falaschi, linger in the eyes, the intense viscerality of a yellow Lamborghini Miura ranks Marcello Gandini as one of the designers of every era. So the same observation can be moved to different coordinates and other elements. If, on the surface of the water, we examine the profile of an Itama 40 by Mario Amati or if we look through the portholes of Gérald Genta’s Audemars Piguet Royal Oak on our wrist, we understand that nothing will undermine its formal clarity. But in an era of mass sharing, of electrification that puts out the fire of combustion and of forced digitalization, won’t the automobile be at risk of becoming a mere tool like any other device? «Certainly at this early stage, electrification has the tendency to have a standardizing effect on the size of cars», Bonzanigo points out, « given the limited number of possible fits for battery packs, which to date are still very bulky. I believe that in the next few years there will be a divide between cars shared with other users - all of which will be electric and self-driving, which will create a considerable infrastructure problem - and cars for private use. The former will be developed to fulfil their main task, the mobility of people and goods; the second will be designed to generate excitement. In these latter ones the emphasis of uniqueness will be sought. It will be up to us to conjure up that emotional impulse that surpasses functionality and that celebrates pleasure». So when the child grows up, they will rediscover the primordial emotion of being in touch with a special object.

Madama Butterfly

The MC20, created by the Centro Stile Maserati in Turin, won the Top design award in the Transportation/Automotive category. When the very first images of the MC20 came out, the enthusiast’s attention was drawn to the MC12 that triumphed in the FIA GT championships. But if that was a 50-piece competition car, the MC20 is an «everyday» supercar. Although its Neptune (a twin-turbo 3-litre V6) is a god of sporty mechanics (630 hp with 730 Nm of torque) and the chassis a razor blade between the kerbs, the car is urban, comfortable and highly connected. A happy endeavor, crowned «Product Design of the Year» at the European Product Design Awards 2021.

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