Pininfarina’s Towering Ambition

Pininfarina is perhaps the world’s best known automotive design consultancy, but now they’re setting their sights higher. About 95-metres to be precise.

Pininfarina/Aecom's proposed control tower building for Istanbul Grand Airport. Image:dailysabah
Pininfarina/Aecom’s proposed control tower building for Istanbul Grand Airport. Image:dailysabah

35km west of Istanbul near Arnavutköy, lies possibly the largest construction site in existence. Rising from reclaimed land on the Black sea coast, the Istanbul Grand Airport terminal is currently under construction; the design of which is led by UK architectural practice, Scott Brownrigg. With an area of 1.3 million square meters, it will be the largest airport terminal – potentially the largest building in the world. The first phase will provide for up to 90 million passengers per annum, but once the phase three is completed, the airport will see over 150 million passengers through its gates each year. Now that is big.

So what you may ask has a fading Italian carrozzeria to do with a project of this scale, and frankly I was a little puzzled myself. But Pininfarina’s involvement arises quite literally from the fact that they have been appointed, in conjunction with US design firm Aecom to build a 95-metre-tall air traffic control tower to serve the Istanbul airport project. The distinctive tower has been shaped to resemble a tulip, symbol of the historic city. Eye-catching it most certainly is, but what does a rank outsider like Pininfarina understand about airport architecture or air traffic control for that matter?

Company President, Paolo Pininfarina outlined the carrozzeira’s position in Architects Journal, telling them; “Our aim was to develop a bespoke idea that embodied our partner’s design identity while at the same time bringing a new aesthetic perspective. By leveraging the unique combination of our 85 years’ experience in design – from cars to superyachts, and from luxury products to furniture – with our architectural knowledge gained from several projects around the world, we have been able to create a technologically advanced structure of distinctive character.”

Thanks Paulo. However, in Pininfarina’s favour is that in creating industrial design subsidiary Pininfarina Extra in the 1980s, the carrozzeira diversified from automotive styling and engineering into areas like public transport, architecture and product design. They were also involved in the design and construction of the first full-sized wind tunnel in Italy at their own research facility in Turin, which opened in 1972. And as far back as 1968, Pininfarina Research & Development was involved in the design of the Piaggio-Douglas PD808 executive jet. Nevertheless, eyebrows were raised throughout the architectural world following their appointment to the Istanbul Airport project in December.

A CGI render of the new airport terminal building at Istanbul. Image:nordicarch
A CGI render of the new airport terminal building at Istanbul. Image:nordicarch

Clearly Aecom, a global giant in infrastructure and industrial design has been brought in to carry out the bulk of the heavy lifting for the project, because designing and delivering an air-traffic control system is a highly specialised discipline. I suspect Pininfarina’s role is more likely one of coming up with an attractive concept with a judicious sprinkling of Torinese fairy dust.

Nonetheless, it does suggest Paolo Pininfarina has acknowledged the stark vista facing the automotive side of his grandfather’s business. Following the recent merger with Tech Mahindra, it’s apparent the World-famous styling house is looking to expand its vocabulary outside the confines of a motor business that no longer requires its services. CP Gurnani, Tech Mahindra CEO told Forbes that Pininfarina will be able to apply its design skills to “anything that has a physical shape, while Tech Mahindra provides the engineering know-how to productionise it; turning a beautiful design into a product that can be efficiently mass-produced.” So although this commission pre-dates Mahindra’s completed acquisition, it’s suggestive of how the Indian industrial giant views its new ‘partner’.

But is this new control tower a beautiful design that can be efficiently produced? Certainly, some have expressed skepticism as to how easy it will be to translate that elegant elliptical shape into something as fundamental to the safe arrival and departure of around 150 million passengers every year. Chances are we’ll find out in approximately 24-months time – meanwhile, Paulo’s got some serious swotting up to do.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

One thought on “Pininfarina’s Towering Ambition”

  1. Should we be so surprised? In Italy, at least until relatively recently, most industrial and product designer started off on architecture courses, before specialising.

    That said, I’d think Pininfarina’s input to the Arnavutköy project is largely ornamental. The name still probably carries more weight with the broad mass of the public than Foster, Rogers, Calatrava, Gehry, Hadid et. al.

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