Autocar have published a list of the new cars expected in the near future. Under “Audi” we find grounds to hope that Audi’s much-criticised, characterless design can be saved.
Well, I am being ironic of course.
This is what Autocar says about the 2017 Audi A6 “A more stylish look is promised for Audi’s next BMW 5-series competitor, designed under Marc Lichte”. You really have to wonder about the man who is heir to a long tradition of studiously composed designs from the Ingolstadt firm. What is he thinking? Remember Walter da Silva who was charged with adding faszination to VAG’s cars. He tentatively added a ‘Tornado Line’ to some Audi models which seemed as breathtakingly out of place as putting a clown nose on Heidi Klum’s face.
One wonders what Mr Lichte is planning and what that will look like. Audi’s are stylish in the sense of having a clear, defined and consistent appearance. It’s eye-catchingly restrained.
What we have here, in addition to the usual dreary imperative of design spokespeople to talk up forthcoming cars, is an inherent tension in modernism with or without a capital M. You see, the idea with modernism (and Audi demonstrates some form of this mentality) is that by eschewing decorative flourishes one can produce a shape that is close to the Platonic ideal of the object in question. And somehow Audi has actually managed to change its cars from generation to generation without simply
caking on empty styling details as other makers are wont to do while staying close to a functionalist ideal. The storm line didn’t add anything to the cars it graced but was modest enough to be ignored. With Lichte’s proposal we must assume that he is veering more sharply away from a four decade theme which, let’s be honest, really appeals to a lot of people and which, as a quondam designer of some type, I have to respect.
Getting back to that tension in Modernism, we find that adhering to the design minimum (see: Rams, Dieter) makes things look rather the same and eventually becomes a tradition of its own. Is it oxymoronic to talk of a tradition of modernism? Tradition and modernism are opposed, I contend. And if you change for change’s sake then that departs from the modernist idea of trying to find the essential form. It’s hard to pretend the purpose of the car changes so much that the principles of finding its ‘correct’ shape must change in the manner suggested by Marc Lichte.
So, paradox: change the design to be new and different and the car won’t adhere to Modernism’s pursuit of objective form; stay essentially the same and the design becomes traditional which is to depart from Modernism’s search for the new. Catch 22, eh?