With the Airo EV, Heatherwick Studio envisions “a car that actively does good”
by Jincy IypeDec 05, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Sep 20, 2021
Bare yet dressed. Raw yet refined. Simple yet intricate. These are a few of the paradoxical qualities embedded within the MINI Strip - the product of a collaboration between British designer Sir Paul Smith and iconic automotive marque MINI. Unveiled at an exclusive preview in London, in August 2021, the project was first announced in November 2020. Reinterpreting the classic MINI Cooper SE, the MINI Strip is a one-off electric vehicle model that boasts a Smith-designed interface, interiors, and body, channelling ‘simplicity, transparency, and sustainability' into an automobile design that blends MINI’s distinctive aesthetics with Smith’s own penchant for combining tradition and modernity.
Commenting on the unique nature of their collaboration in a press statement, Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design, relays that “Paul asked essential questions right at the start of the design process with his fresh, non-automotive perspective.” As evidenced in its name, the MINI Strip’s design process commenced with the literal and figurative ‘stripping’ down of a three-door MINI Cooper SE to its bare essentials. Smith remarks in an official release, “I know and love the existing car, but by respecting the past and looking to the future we have created something very special and truly unique, by going back to basics and reducing things down.” This guiding principle of ‘maximum reduction’ led to a radical reimagination of the original vehicle, resulting in an elegant, minimal design with an offbeat charm.
In the vehicle’s exterior, this concept is reflected in the unprocessed state of the body, where a coloured paint finish was discarded in favour of a raw look - safeguarded only by a thin layer of transparent paint for corrosion protection. To identify the car as a ‘functional object and robust companion for everyday life', grinding marks from the manufacturing process were retained on the galvanised steel panels of the body, culminating in an effect that Smith describes as the ‘perfect imperfection'. The British designer’s passion for modifying bicycles is reflected in the visible screws in add-on parts to the main body, meant to signify the simplicity of dismantling and repurposing the vehicle’s components at the end of its life cycle. MINI’s instantly recognisable black band was 3D-printed in sections from recycled plastic, as were the distinctive rear and front apron inserts.
Recycled perspex was used to make the grille trim and aerodynamic wheel covers, which aid in reducing drag and extending the electric vehicle’s range. In addition, the panoramic roof was also made of recycled perspex, allowing a glimpse of the peculiar interior design within the shell. Smith chose to remove virtually all the trim parts of the car’s body shell - with the exception of the dashboard, topper pad and parcel shelf, leaving only the bare essence of the structure behind. The shell was also painted an intense shade of blue at Smith’s behest, to exert a unique identity of its own. Embodying the British designer’s ‘classic with a twist’ philosophy, the design incorporates playful details such as the signature five-coloured Paul Smith stripes on the insides of the door, as well as a charging flap with an engraved drawing of an electric plug, which reveals a burst of neon green when opened.
An extensive, semi-transparent section with a smoked-glass finish, constitutes the majority of the dashboard. Here, Smith drew inspiration from MINI's preference for circular elements. Doing away with traditional configurations, the Strip instead employs a circular altar to accommodate the driver’s smartphone as the de facto media control centre. Aside from the toggle switches for power windows and the stop/start function located in the centre stack, the elaborate system of controls normally seen in modern automobiles is absent - replaced instead by a geometric and graphical design theme.
Leather and chrome are completely absent from the interiors, and in this vein, the MINI Strip’s sustainable design credentials are underpinned by a variety of environment friendly materials it features. Seats are upholstered in a knitted fabric, and dashboard topper pad, door shoulders, and parcel shelf are made of recycled cork. Featuring a terrazzo-esque pattern in black and blue, the floor mats showcase the heterogeneous composition of the material used in their manufacturing, which creates a tantalising play of texture and colour.
Another hint towards Smith’s affection for bicycles is seen in the handlebar tape-wrapped steering wheel rim, which has been reduced to its simplest functions. Connected to the rim by a trio of aluminium spokes, the steering wheel’s impact absorber possesses a mesh covering which allows drivers to see the airbag it contains. Visible screws have also been used here, as an extension of the theme from the vehicle’s exterior. Door panels feature the same mesh seen in the steering, exhibiting fluctuations in transparency when viewed from different angles. Bright streaks of orange from the seat belts and door handles made of wound climbing rope liven up the space, complemented by the circular door openers made of milled aluminium.
MINI views the car as possessing the potential to provide a catalyst for the sustainable use of resources in automotive design, and it might not be too much of a stretch to think so. Circular design and sustainability were key parameters driving the collaboration from its very genesis, and are reflected in virtually every detail of the final product. The result is an inside-out aesthetic tempered by classical sensibility - merging the best of both Smith and MINI’s styles to create something truly inimitable.
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