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Excavating BMW i and the future of cities

19 April 2011 No Comment

‘Welcome to the future of urban modernity, a future that is still being written, its canvas somehow extracted from the crowded city streets of the world’s great metropolises. Cities were once shaped by transport, public and private. But now the inverse is true, and we are more wary of the impact that transportation has on the urban fabric, the quality of the air, and the experience of the streets.’

Considering this is promotion material that presumably both BMW and Wallpaper* have licensed, there’s an unfeasible amount of bollocks number of non-sequiturs in the bumpf above.

But then that’s exactly what the future can sound like, or at least in the uber self-conscious language of art and design. Anyone familiar with the excesses of the Wallpaper* project’s language will recognize the mixture of dense, slippery language and out-of-place colloquial. So the collaboration between BMW and Wallpaper* promises:

‘an exploration of every kind of new urban initiative, from the form and function of car-park charging stations, or the apartment of tomorrow, to sustainable programmes such as micro-power generation or urban re-greening, or even efficiency-generating ventures, such as public storage spaces and location-based technology.’

What the hell are they going on about?

Actually the material above is not so impenetrable. We know that BMW are innovating fiercely in the field of electric vehicles, as indeed are Renault and Nissan and Vauxhall and every other manufacturer worth their weight. It’s just that the focus of this particular collaboration rests on the wider implications of the green car project, recognising that cars are inevitably part of the urban environment and that this will have to change if our wider driving habits are to change.

BMW of course have always been interested in the future. At times they seem to at times fly off the curve they are endlessly trying to stay ahead of. You have to love manufacturers who take a punt on a vision of the future and get it wrong – remember the i-drive system on the old 7-series, an onboard computer so fiendishly complicated that nobody ever really figured it out?

If anything mad design only serves to highlight quite how fine the line between modernity and absurdity really is.

What is most true of the latest collaboration between BMW and Wallpaper* is that is has a fashionable and timely focus on the future of cars as city cars; a recognition that, as much as cars are extra-urban transportation here in the UK, because public transport is always better in the city, in the Developing World the car is going to be about the city and vice versa. As new cities grow and expand in Asia and South America the pressure on the urban environment and transport infrastructures will grow ever greater.

BMW seem to be trying to join the dots between car manufacturer, urban planner and urban culture. And despite the language this seems to be a reasonable plan.

A quick review of the topics up for discussion on the BMW i website show an engagement with all the topics currently relevant to the environmentally conscious designer.

To what extent you need green charging points, green parking garages, even BMW-designed subway cars in Poland: all of these topics are up for discussion and framed as conversations on the cool BMW website.

There’s a certain amount of div and faddishness you have to get through, but this is quite an exciting venture. It bears no relation to the real world of motoring of course, but that’s it’s charm for those interested in the future of the car and city.