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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Icons: Chris Bangle

Here is a question for you. Be honest. Do you know who Ulli Kranz is? Do you? What about Chris Bangle? Do you know who he is?

Though his name may not be familiar, Ulli Kranz is the chief engineer of BMW and he is, undoubtably, the big man on campus. During Ulli's walk from the lobby to his office, no less than 500 engineering minions bow deeply as he walks past. What's more, Ulli Kranz is formally addressed by his team as "Lord Vader."

As Chris Bangle put it, car designers play a more feminine role in a scientific, precise, and male dominated industry. Chris Bangle is, of course, the former Chief Designer at BMW. The distinction between engineering and design comes down to this; "what's inside" never merited a wolf whistle. Nobody feels "love at first sight" because of someone's personality.  A man doesn't lose his ability to form sentences because smart-and-funny walked by in a little red dress...

So, I dedicate the first Icons post to one of the most important modern car designers of today, Chris Bangle.

The video above (I highly recommend that you click on it) is from a very early TED Conference where Chris Bangle described the Deep Blue project at BMW which involved his team of designers and another team of engineers. Without giving too much away, Bangle began his TED talk with, "Great cars are art."

The emphasis here is "great cars." While engineers are deeply involved in a car's creation, initial emotions occur not when you are driving, but when you first walk up to a car and take it in as a sculpture.

To know what a great car is, let's first identify what a great car isn't. The Pontiac Aztek was created with all the right intentions. GM invited a study group to share their thoughts on what they would like to have in a car. Then, all their ideas were thrown into a hat and the engineers worked hard to create a package that would include all the desired features within the product parameters. On paper, there's no fault to the development team's logic. Unfortunately, the final outcome is so disgusting that I'm sure we all agree that it's better to leave a picture of an Aztek out of the post.

The thing about the Pontiac Aztek is it proved, once and for all, it's better to be a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without. Art is irrational and, with the utmost respect, no word can better describe Chris Bangle.

As elegant as BMW design was in the past, the automaker foresaw the need for radical changes. Chris Bangle's most pivotal BMW design was the infamous E65 BMW 7-Series pictured above. Specifically, Bangle's two-tier treatment of the BMW 7's rear-end resulted to a glaring disconnect between the trunk element and tail lights. This strong departure from traditional automotive design caused critics to address this new style as "Bangle Butt." Unfazed, what others would consider irrational, Bangle approached with interest and curiosity.

Despite all the critics, the E65 7-series became the best selling 7-series of all time. What's more, during BMW's Bangle-era of automobiles, the Bavarian automaker bested Mercedes-Benz in premium car sales. In fact, BMW's success even caused Mercedes to resort to imitation.

Yet while the 7 series was important to BMW's transformation, it was project GINA that really allowed Bangle's creativity to shine. GINA is also a personal favorite of mine. Here, Chris Bangle's understanding of structural engineering pushed his craft to an extremely abstract level. A modern vehicle can completely rely on space frame architecture to "bird cage" its occupants for safety, thus permitting the outer shell to simply be a layer of skin-like fabric rather than hard panels. For the first time, a car's appearance could not only morph, but could wrinkle and distort as well. Cars in the past used interesting shapes to enhance the element. GINA achieves the opposite, utilizing the characteristics of the fabric material to enhance shape.

Here are a few more notable projects that Chris Bangle was a part of:

After leaving BMW in 2009, Chris Bangle can now be found with his wife and son in Piedmont, Italy. There, Chris Bangle started his own design company, Chris Bangle Associates.


  1. As a car enthusiast, designer, and realist, I can't stand Chris Bangle's designs... especially for BMW.

  2. Chris Bangle is really one of the most creative designer of the modern car. As the post shows massive features about growing auto mobile technologies. It's truly one of worthy experienced source for me. I am really surprised to see this one. Thanks for sharing.