by Anushka SharmaJun 15, 2023
From an intricate parcel of engineering to an embodiment of palpable vogue and unparalleled technology—cars are no longer a mere means of conveyance. Automobile design has now become a style statement—a creative expression donned in metallic sheen and remodelled to tend diverse preferences. Although the industry evolves at an electric pace, there are some iconic car models that, despite ever-changing trends, have continued to appease people through years and iterations. One such seminal silhouette was that of Renault Twingo launched in 1993. If cars have mutated to encapsulate an artistic vein, how will an artist reimagine these entities?
Dutch designer and contemporary artist Sabine Marcelis forays into the world of automotive design with her representative play with light and transparency. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Twingo, French car brand Renault partners with the internationally acclaimed designer to unveil an artistic version of the original silhouette. Marcelis has designed a concept model of the electric vehicle in her signature colour palette of pastels while nodding to the designer’s affinity to resin. “I was invited by Renault to design a Twingo to celebrate its 30th anniversary,” says Marcelis. “It was very insightful to rethink Twingo's iconic details in a new light. I wanted to preserve the Twingo’s iconic elements but present them in a new unexpected way through the use of materiality,” she adds.
The world first witnessed this compact automobile in 1992 in a Paris Motor Show, with Patrick Le Quément as Renault’s head of design. Success was only imminent for the practical four-seater hatchback that was ideal for tackling chaotic cities and their small parking lots. Soon after it hit the market, Twingos became commonplace on the streets of Europe—the city car becoming one the French carmaker’s longest-running models. “It goes against a lot of things that cars at the time were embracing,” the designer comments. “It is a car that has been able to reinvent itself throughout the years and has continued to be relevant after 30 years of being in production,” she adds. When presented with an opportunity to redesign the car, Marcelis saw a window to explore an uncharted territory. “I really saw it as a unique opportunity to apply my design thinking to something completely new to me,” she explains. “Designing a car is a complex task and there are a lot of restrictions to work within; but often restrictions can really push creativity,” the Dutch artist adds.
At first glance, Marcelis’s version of Twingo has an almost ghostly personage owing to its monochromatic white shell—a mystical entity that slowly reveals itself as one discovers it from all angles. The structural frame indulges in a game of hide and seek subject to the angle from which it is viewed and how the light hits it. “Create a dynamic design through material use, so that even when the car is not in motion, it feels like it is,” the designer notes. The original silhouette of the car is kept intact along with the elements that make Twingo as iconic as it is. The recognisable features such as the ‘frog eye’ headlights were adapted rather than changed, allowing people to rediscover them through new materiality. “We kept the shape the same but made the light only appear through an additional material filter. So it is seen in a different light, literally,” says Marcelis.
The designer endeavours to elevate the components without losing their authenticity—bringing them into a more luxurious realm, activated by light and materiality. Stripping the elements down to their essence, Marcelis fortifies the mono-materiality theme by turning some of them into mono-elements. The sunshade and the front seats, for instance, are showcased as singular entities akin to the body and the windows that only transition in opacity. “One of my favourite little features is also the Key—the one object that activates the entire car. We made it in a translucent torus shape, a signature shape I often work with,” states Marcelis.
The rich and saturated red interiors of Twingo sit in stark contrast to the muted white exterior. “There was a strong intent to keep the exterior void of colour so that the material itself and the varying transparencies can be brought to the forefront,” the designer explains. The choice of burgundy is an elevated use of the original Twingo red—a more intense version of that colour as an updated vision. The colour also aims at evoking a cosy feeling—making the experience of being inside the car one of comfort and luxury. The tactile experience of the interior is intrinsic to the concept and each material used has a different tactility and surface texture.
The fully transparent steering wheel, redolent of toy cars, is one of the most distinctive features of Marcelis’s version of Twingo. “The fully transparent steering wheel was quite a challenge to develop, especially because we wanted it to remain functional, so the link to the steering column had to be reinforced and tested before we could proceed,” says Francois Farion, Design Director, Renault. The single disk steering wheel reveals itself further when light catches its edges. By keeping the body thin and the edges slightly thicker, the designer ensures a good grip and the saturation of colour intensifies towards the thicker outer edges. “Functionality should not be compromised for aesthetics but vice versa I try to not compromise aesthetics for function too much either—it is a balancing act,” Marcelis says.
Staying true to her design language, Marcelis shrouds Twingo with a play of light that renders static materials dynamism—a recurring theme in her oeuvre. The designer embraces a refreshing rendition of the car design while holding on to the lines and form of the original model. As the materiality interacts with both external and integrated light sources, the viewer is tempted to explore the frame from all sides—absorbing its changing perceptions, transparencies and new possibilities. “I love that it is a duality of both preservation of the original and interpretation of what it could be,” Marcelis explains. An interesting dialogue between the pragmatism of automobile design and the creative flair of an artist becomes the origin of Twingo’s luminescent avatar. Although the artistic concept allows for fantasy, it also sows the seeds of real-life interventions. This cross-pollination of automobile technology, art and design questions extant notions and solutions, leaving the viewers ponder the numerous possibilities that accompany the crossroad—and plausibly delineate the future of automobiles.