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Life on the edge

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The Pininfarina museum stands proudly in Cambiano, Turin. The first capital of Italy is where founder Battista “Pinin” Farina’s designs and works first came to be, and where the brand has operated over the course of the past 87 years. From the outside, the museum is an unassuming and minimalist structure, featuring clean lines and a strong silhouette. The inside, however, is a feast for the eyes.

The museum features the key projects of the brand, designs that have shaped the company as it is today. An Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider catches the eye, a true vision of the mid fifties, gleaming in bright lipstick red. We’re told that it, as well as the custom-tailored Lancia Flaminia beside it, had belonged to the founder himself.

They’re works of art in mint condition, perfectly and carefully restored to stand in pride of place within the walls of history that depict the company’s progress throughout the years. Despite their decades’ old designs, many of the cars are still beautiful to behold, with elegant, neat lines, boldly striking details, and the deliberate, sensual curves we’ve come to associate with the Pininfarina name.

It’s an awe-inspiring sight.

“Our designs are always some kind of compromise between tradition and innovation. Between art and industrial development. Between Italian and International. Between fashion and functional. They are either self-standing, or depend on the market. The paradox is that you can only do things if you don’t care about what is around you, but you also cannot forget what is around you. So you must be curious about the things surrounding you, but not be too much influenced, because sometimes you have to focus on the breakthrough.” – Paolo Pininfarina

Currently helming the Pininfarina name is the founder’s grandson, Paolo Pininfarina. The fourth Pininfarina man to stand at the head of the company, and the third generation to reach for greater heights, he nonetheless takes the time to show us around the museum. There is excitement and reverent sentiments in the way he takes us through the years; he is a man proud of his predecessors’ achievements, and at the same time, gunning for greater heights.

“My grandfather liked to talk about the shoulders of the car,” He tells us. It’s true that Pininfarina’s best-beloved designs feature a certain devotion to aesthetics; a well-seasoned fan learns to spot a Pininfarina design from its curves and lines. Beyond design, however, the brand’s tenets for excellence stand on the groundwork laid by Paolo’s predecessors; his grandfather, father, and brother.

The Cisitalia remains, to this day, one of the great inspirations for the designers of the company.

“My grandfather was an artist, a genius and a designer. He was also a simple man, but very ambitious, so I like to think about him.” Paolo tells us. It’s evident he’s fond of the man, and holds great respect for him. “He’s really one in a million, and he had a talent for finding other talents.” The founder of Pininfarina had imparted upon his successors all the values necessary for the growth of an international brand: be intuitive. Always look to the best. Never be satisfied. Keep the bar high. Be consistent and keep quality first. If you’re not satisfied, say it, and try again. “I learnt the procedure from my father,” Paolo adds, after. “Fortunately, I’ve lived with him for fifty four years, and worked with him in the company for more than twenty five. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, ‘He would say this’, or ‘He would do that’. He taught me the work, and the way to work.”

When Battista Pininfarina stepped down in 1961, Sergio was bequeathed with the monumental task of balancing an increasingly progressive automotive industry with the technologies of the day, and making sure it all cohered with the fundamentally Pininfarina aesthetic.

Central to Sergio’s work in Pininfarina were his collaborations with Ferarri, which have spawned around 200 designs to date, with special emphasis placed on creating safer Formula 1 racing cars through the use of engineering and technology. “Ferarri is very important to our history,” Paolo tells us. As it stands, the tally for Ferrari designs by the Pininfarina men are led by Sergio himself, which over 100 designs. Founder Battista ‘Pinin’ chalks in an impressive 40, while Paolo’s brother Andrea, who had led the company from 2001 to 2008 designed two. “I’ve personally designed seven to eight,” Paolo tells us.

While the company’s collaborations with Ferarri are, indeed, of great importance, it’s easy to see that Pininfarina has made strides in works with other huge names throughout the years. Still, the core of the company has stayed the same. “Every day is another day, and every day we start again.” Paolo says. “We are always curious to explore new things. Even after 87 years, I can still say that Pininfarina is very young.”

A cursory glance around the museum takes us through the ages with ease. The centrepiece of the display is truly a child of the modern world: a sleek, sculpted race car. The H2 Speed is Pininfarina’s innovative vision of a high performance track car. True to the company’s dedication to innovation, it boasts revolutionary hydrogen fuel cell technology, paving the way to renewable automotives and a greener future for it as a whole. The concept car took home the Best Concept Award at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show – top honours, as it were.

The H2 Speed took home the Best Concept Award at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show.

Paolo is big on concept cars. “They (concept cars) often drive future industrial projects,” He tells us as we’re admiring the H2 Speed. In his own work, the man derives inspiration from the works of his predecessors, many of which include concept cars. That, alongside the continuous process of innovation, is what drives the company forward today. “Innovation contains a certain amount of risk that you have to manage,” He tells us candidly. “But there is no future without risk.”

By 1986, it had become necessary for the Pininfarina brand to create an extension in which to group all projects unrelated to the automotive industry. The Pininfarina Extra office was designed as a company exercise at the start of the century. “We wanted to design an environment.” Paolo says. “Our projects are many environments, integrating pieces of our designs, and eventually others in materials and lighting.”

This design discipline is evident in Pininfarina’s many architectural designs to date. The company’s many milestones range from the Cisitalia 202 race car, to the Ferarri Dino, and beyond the automotive industry, to the Snaidero Ola 20 kitchen. “I think the Snaidero kitchen is a masterpiece,” Paolo says. “It’s the first time we’ve made a product that was so popular around the world.” It makes sense; even those who hold no love of automobile design can appreciate the sleek, luxurious curves of the Snaidero Ola 20 kitchen. On that front, the Snaidero kitchen successfully opened the market to Pininfarina, allowing them to enter the home in an intimate way.

The Snaidero Ola 20 kitchen features sleek curves befitting the Pininfarina name.

Unsurprisingly, the current plan for the company where Pininfarina Extra is concerned is to build ties. The company has strong ties with developers across the world. “If we do projects in home design, we can promote the products of companies that make them. We can provide business to the traders and manufacturers of those Italian products, and so, if they can find business in the real estate business, they’re happy, and we make more designs,” Paolo tells us. The goal is to provide a more complete solution to their real estate developers, improving on both the size, as well as the quality of the relationships, both with manufacturers, and with developers.

At home, the company’s vast portfolio of automotive works continues to serve as inspiration for the new age of design. Each contribute something to fresh designs, whether it is in a landmark tower, a pen, a packaging solution, a luxury yatch interior, or even a pair of headphones. “The museum is an outstanding warehouse of pieces of timeless design,” Paolo says. “It’s fundamental for Pininfarina designers to walk through and take inspiration. The bar is there, every time, and there is a level of excellence you have to achieve. Otherwise, we’re not consistent.”

“In terms of architecture, I consider the Ferra, in Singapore, a milestone. The Ferra is the mother of all our towers. It’s still just a model, but it is important to us because it is the expression of the Pininfarina design language in the architectural industry, driven by function and with harmonic shapes and sculptures typical of us.” – Paolo Pininfarina

It’s a holistic approach that the company adopts in their projects. Paolo maintains that a car is many things. “You see the exterior, but you live in the interior.” In designing an environment, it is much the same. A building may be groundbreaking to look at, but needs to be equally habitable on the inside. Paolo credits his father, Sergio, with having provided the necessary mindset and attitude for achieving this. “My father was everything. He was an artist, a designer, a businessman, and an engineer. But, he’ll say he was an engineer because the most difficult thing to do is to graduate as an engineer.” He chuckles at this. “The engineer has to balance the need of the customer with the aesthetic.”