This car needs no introduction: the Lancia Thema. Why do we keep coming back to cars such as these?
The answer is that like a good painting or a good song there seems to be so much there to consider and reconsider.
I’ve picked as examples a painting and car but not a building, I notice. If I was forced to pick a building, the very top of the list is the Berkeley Library, Dublin (I’ve cited it before):
That building is unusual for me because it’s possibly the building I like most but it also exceptional in that it is a building from a period of monumental planning and design disasters; it is fabulously difficult to photograph well. There are many buildings that make better photos yet which aren’t worth five minutes of a look.
What’s important here is more that I don’t generally think of individual buildings when I am not being confronted by them whereas I may think of a song, an artwork or a car independently of whether I am confronted by one at a given moment or not. I do, however, think of places even though I may not be in them at the time.
The next point of comparison is that in terms of aesthetic content, the Lancia, Morandi or a song seem very direct and comparable. In contrast, many buildings, and here I am thinking of very good ones, almost fall below the threshold of interest; it is as an assembly (a street or plaza) that the aesthetic content of buildings takes on greater force and at the same time the authorship diminishes because a street or a square is a collective effort.
It’s almost as if the urban scene becomes more like a natural (unintentional) setting. Returning to the level of units, buildings unlike songs, paintings or cars can lack the tension between form and semantic aspects. Even the Berkeley Library is straightforward: it has the right bits in the right places (is it arbitrary?).
A painting is a story of some kind even if the story is here are some pots. Morandi is not arbitrary at all (but Pollock is and much less interesting). A car is far from arbitrary and it conveys images or narratives; a car design can ask you in the best cases to imagine another reality; it can also ask to be deciphered and analysed so one puts function, form and brand values into play against one another. Songs have the immediate aesthetic impact of musical sounds – think of the astonishing range of colours and tones conveyed by guitars alongside the nuances of the vocal performance. All of that serves the progression in time of the notation.
These meditations serve to highlight the curious phenomenon that objects like the Lancia (Lancia’s most architectural car?) make one want to head back to them for yet another thoughtful gaze (step forward, Fiesta) and most buildings don’t, delightful as they are. And that’s why I find myself posting another example of the Thema.
I’ll pay more attention to the interior here. You have to enjoy the tussle between comfort and sobriety to get the most out of this space. That’s not an easy sell in this era when even the cheapest car interior is sculpted like part of a Gaudi buildings and when moving up the class hierarchy quickly leads to material and textural excess.
Stucture? How can this be understood?
Hekkert and Desmet provide a framework for appreciating a design: 1) aesthetic experiences, 2) meaning experiences and 3) emotional experiences. The Lancia ties this trio up in knots.
The pleasure of the interior is the simplicity or the restraint of the stimulus (a cool glass of water, Philip Glass) allied to the idea it’s well-made; the experienced meaning relates to the brand’s history and what it means to unite austerity with quality which leads to an emotional experience that is surely derived from the first two. Personally, I find it emotionally satisfying that the car is so restrained without being uninteresting. The intellectual consideration leads to emotional pleasure.
The next thing is to ask ourselves if the reason buildings may not satisfy as cars, songs or paintings do is because they do not land fully inside the framework of product experience? And does this car also show us that the three parts of the framework of product experience are entangled?
Lancia experts: is it true the PRV6 was used on this car and then, later the Alfa Romeo 3.0 V6?