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American Prize for Design 2024
American Prize for Design 2024

By Christian Narkiewicz-Laine

Paolo Pininfarina, the internationally celebrated Italian engineer, designer, and businessman, and famous head of Pininfarina SpA (short for Carrozzeria Pininfarina) headquartered in Cambiano, Turin, Italy, has been awarded The American Prize for Design for 2024 by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies in conjunction with Good Design® 2024.

His nomination for the prize was approved by The Chicago Athenaeum’s International Advisory Committee a month before his untimely death this April 2024 at the age of 65.

Pininfarina’s illustrious career spans over 40 years in the world of automotive design producing some of the most classic, inventive, enduring, iconic, and exotic motor cars in design history for Ferrari SpA., Fiat SpA., Peugeot S.A., Lancia SpA., BMW AG., General Motors Company, Maserati SpA., and Alfa Romeo SpA – to name a few.

During his reign as the head of Pininfarina SpA since 2008, the Turin-based studio, established as a coachbuilder in the 1930’s by Batistta Pininfarina, worked within the greater creative design world as well as designing private jets, yachts, boats, trams, buses, high-speed trains, rolling stocks, autonomous moving vehicles, automated light rail cars, people movers, sports equipment in addition to furniture, kitchens, appliances, hard drives, and industrial products.

Since 1986 with the creation of "Pininfarina Extra," the firm has consulted on industrial design, interior design, architecture, and graphic design for a multitude, staggering array of design companies ranging from The Coca Cola Company, Mepra SpA., Motorola, Inc., Lavazza SpA., Casio Computer Co., Gorenje Group, and Simple Tech to Bosch Power Tools GmbH., Unilever PLC., Guerlain, Schaefer Yachts USA., and Aeronáutica Industrial S.A.

Other famed Pininfarina product designs include the 2006 Winter Olympics torch, cauldron, and medals; the Catalyst 9000 switch for Cisco Systems, Inc.; Bovet 1822 on the Flying Tourbillon wristwatch, creating the Bovet by Pininfarina Collection; the design a new spray gun for Anest Iwata, creating the Supernova Pininfarina; and Juventus FC’s stadium interiors.

In terms of furniture design, Pininfarina has designed new visionary collections with the firm’s distinctive “aerodynamic curves” of a sports car in collaboration with Reflex SpA., Morfeus Company, Snaidero Rino SpA and Snaidero USA., Sahrai Co. Ltd., and Vista Alegre Atlantis SA. rendering seating, desks, and kitchens as futuristic and ultra-modern.

During the 2010s, the firm expanded its outreach designing extraordinary works of architecture—all with the same Pininfarina distinctive and immediately-recognized design signature—from skytowers in Brazil, Singapore, Mexico, and the United States.

Pininfarina was run by Battista's son Sergio Pininfarina until 2001, then his grandson Andrea Pininfarina until he died in 2008. After Andrea's death, his younger brother Paolo Pininfarna was appointed CEO.

Beautiful, stunning, provocative, and instant landmark classics defines the Pininfarina hallmark stamped on any object designed by Paolo Pininfarina.

A global icon of high Italian style, Pininfarina is renowned for its extraordinary ability to create timeless beauty.

Founded in 1930, Pininfarina has evolved from an artisan company to an international service group, representing the pinnacle of automotive style and a consolidated presence in product and experiential design, in architecture, and mobility beyond the automotive industry.

Although best known for its work in the automotive sphere, Pininfarina is responsible for the design of more than 600 cars, many of them Ferraris.

The company, which is best known for designing sports cars such as the Ferrari F40 and Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, has a dedicated architecture and product design division that collaborates with partners on projects ranging from air-traffic control towers to electric snowmobiles.

The company is also an industrial design powerhouse. Paolo Pininfarina was an expert in the fields of furniture, architectural, nautical and aeronautical design and industrial product design.

Each object he designed combined Pininfarina's heritage of automotive design, with a clear connection to interior spaces built to enhance the everyday lives of their users.

The firm’s product development followed a similar process to the one used to generate Pininfarina's skyscrapers or car designs.

This involves sketching, ergonomic testing, computer-aided modelling, and finally physical model-making using CNC milling to realize the complex form.

It is said he was a quieter, more reflective character than his late energetic brother Andrea, and claimed to have inherited his father Sergio’s sense of calm.

Despite his enormous stature and presence, he was a shy man.

In a 2014 interview with me, ironically and whimsically, he spoke with a deep-voice, no-nonsense accent like The Godfather, Marlon Brando.

Emphatically he stated: “We are a design house, not a museum.”

In the world of design and beyond, he definitely had a larger-than-life, Hollywood Super Star persona.

The Italian Pininfarina’s rise to the top of one of the best-known design houses in the world was perhaps a little unusual though.

Born in Turin on August 28, 1958, Paolo Pininfarina was one of the scions of this celebrated Italian family.

His grandfather Battista founded Carrozzeria Pinin Farina in 1930, a design house whose design contribution to the evolution of the car is incalculable.

Following his graduation from the Polytechnic University of Turin with a degree in mechanical engineering, Paolo worked for Cadillac, Honda and GM before beginning his career with the family firm in 1982.

His first job after joining the family business in 1982 was overseeing quality and reliability for the Cadillac Allanté.

“My favorite area was mechanical engineering,” Pininfarina said. “I was a little shy of design as it was so strategic, so central. Design was so tied with creativity and intuition that I was not feeling ready.”

In 1987, he became chairman and CEO of the new Pininfarina Extra company, which oversaw the industrial, furnishing, architectural and non-car transport sectors of the Pininfarina brand.

Succession is always a key matter in dynasties, and when his older brother Andrea was killed while riding his Vespa near the company’s Cambiano headquarters in August 2008; Paolo Pininfarina found himself appointed Chairman. 

According to Paolo Pininfarina, the task of designers is to anticipate the future and envision tomorrow.

By blending aesthetics and functionality, innovation and highly skilled craftsmanship, Pininfarina has had the ability to create timeless icons.

“We envision and anticipate the future by providing stylistic and technical solutions that combine timeless beauty and innovation,” stated Paolo Pininfarina.  

“We serve our clients throughout the product development cycle, synergistically and efficiently combining all the skills and technologies available within the Pininfarina Group.”

“The Pininfarina design philosophy is human-centred; we put the man, with his needs, desires and dreams, as the epicentre,” continued Pininfarina.

“We have applied the same approach to our new home interiors projects, leveraging our DNA that’s matured over 86 years of history, to give life to solutions that are at the same time able to express classic elegance and a brand new style.”

“Our goal as designers and architects, in the purest Italian tradition, is to create timeless beauty, a form of aesthetics able to last over years,” said Pininfarina.

This design thinking has earned the company many industry and design awards, including numerous Good Design Awards from 2000 to the present, as well as The International Architecture Awards and The American Architecture Awards from The Chicago Athenaeum.

Sustainability, too, has become the core of the firm’s design thinking with the specific mission to introduce zero-emissions vehicles in the last two decades primarily with the introduction of the Pininfarina sustainable EV Blue Car of 2011.

“I absolutely agree in that designers have a social responsibility to contribute to the realization of a more environmentally sustainable future world,” Pininfarina noted.

“We want to be part of the huge ‘green deal’ of the next 20 years and we will do it by being deeply involved in the process of automotive electrification.

For almost three decades, Paolo Pininfarina steered the wider global business with courage, navigating a global recession, a takeover by India-based Mahindra Group in 2015, and on into a new exciting era of self-branded, all-electric, hyper-luxury cars via a separate venture, Automobili Pininfarina GmbH in Munich in 2018.

The first vehicle from that new brand was named after his grandfather Battista and meant a great deal to him, as he said at the time of the world’s first sustainable €2 million electric GT hypercar’s launched at the 2019 Geneva International Motor Show in production since 2021: “This is a dream come true. My grandfather always had the vision that one day there would be a stand-alone range of Pininfarina-branded cars.”

Anand Mahindra, Chairman and managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. later commented that "Pininfarina is a hell of a story. But it is an unfinished story. Mahindra will help Pininfarina finish that story and dream of having a 'Pininfarina' badged car."

Family was clearly massively important to him, as he also named the 2013 Pininfarina Sergio concept car—a two-seater barchetta based on Ferrari mechanicals—in memory of his father.

In 2013, Pininfarina also moved from game-changing product design to interior design to architecture with cross fertilization between the differing sectors as a base for continuous innovation and experimentation, since, according to the firm, contamination is an outstanding propeller for creativity.

The first milestone was the Ferra Tower in Singapore of 2013, as the project references the others which have followed, including the Cyrela Building in San Paolo of 2018 and the Regional Air Traffic Control (ATC) Tower and Technical Building at the Istanbul New Airport by AECOM of 2014.

Perhaps because of the success of the 42-story Millecento Residences in Miami for the Related Group. whose interiors are by Pininfarina, the studio received its first of many commissions for new skyscrapers such as the futuristic modern Ferra Tower of 2013 in Singapore. 

The 102m-high skyscraper recalls the same the language of the supercar designed into two sculpted complementary forms; Ferra's delightfully fluid lines immediately call to mind the swankiest chassis—finished in Rosso Corsa red and jet black—are pure Ferrari.

The building is fundamentally about the movement of lines—both in the shaping of Singapore’s skyline and in the creation of two formal typologies of built space. A red tower shapes the urban block with fluid, sinuous built volumes, while a black tower uses orthogonality and faceting to express speed and strength.

The dynamism of the exterior is met with a warm interior palette of wood that articulates balconies and sky terraces. Ventilation openings in the balconies become an artfully blended gradient or composition of nervous lines that reference the air intakes of car bodies. individual units, while customizable, orchestrate light over a composition of wood and leather surfaces.

"I like to remember the Ferrari Testarossa from the 80’s with the air inlets on the side of the car, which was in a totally different context, totally different age and scenario, but not so different to this project," remarked Paolo Pininfarina.

The 22 floors house 102 apartments and two penthouses are also decked out with Pininfarina-designed furniture.

Great attention was paid also to the design of all the details of the common areas, in particular the garage in which the lighting system was studied to “valorize the cars as gems.”

The brand’s ever expanding architectural presence around the world, from Europe to the Americas, going through Asia and the Middle East, is the ultimate proof of the driving equation in every project.

Pininfarina Architecture’s mission is to develop timeless beauty while simultaneously embracing, but not being affected by, the increasingly rapid changes in society and around the world. Beauty, not just for its own sake, but with a distinct identity, significance, and, above all, impact.

Later architecture commissions include the first Pininfarina residence, an exclusive palazzo in Turin, Lagrange 12, the YachtHouse, one of two luxury towers in Brazil, and hospitality venues such as Terrazza Martini that cover one of the branches of the Italy Pavilion, south-east Cardo. The company has even designed The Private Chapel in Riardo for the Perrella family—Pininfarina’s first experience in the field of religious architecture.

Despite Pininfarina’s untimely passing, the firm is still ‘jumping’ and relevant in 2024 and in the decades to come, owing much to the calm confidence, visionary intelligence, and business strategy of Paolo Pininfarina.

The company’s CEO, Silvio Angori, said: “We are all extremely grateful to Eng. Pininfarina for his extraordinary contribution to the company and for always passionately advocating for our history and corporate identity–both in terms of style and ethical and behavourial choices.”

Essays
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