Friday, March 09, 2007

No, no to retro!

click photo to enlarge
The success of the "new" Mini has been trumpeted in the press in recent days. It seems to be selling very well and production is to be increased. Commentators like it and, apparently, so do the car-buying public. I don't! My view of this car is the same as my thinking on the "new" VW Beetle - they are shams: pale imitations of the vehicles that they are designed to echo, and based on a corrupt design principle.

Alec Issigonis, the designer of the original Mini had a clear brief to make a small, mass-produced, inexpensive vehicle. He succeeded by being innovatory. The new car had to fit in a space 10 feet X 4 feet X 4 feet, the passenger cell had to be at least 6 feet long, and it had to use an existing engine. The designers came up with a monocoque shell, mounted the engine transversely, and gave it front-wheel drive. The wheels at each corner conferred great stability and handling, and the firm ride came from the use of rubber cones instead of conventional springs. Other innovations like welded seams, sliding windows and external hinges kept the cost down and contributed to a quirky and appealing aesthetic. Despite its cost being initially more than was intended people wanted to buy it, and it became a great success. By contrast the "new" Mini simply apes the appearance and details of the old car, and uses the same bog standard designs found on every new car. Retro and copyist styling of this sort shows lazy, bankrupt thinking. It's like building a mock-Georgian house in the twenty-first century. Why would you do it? People should build for now. They should create designs of their own time and push forward, not look back!

What, you're probably thinking, has this got to do with a shelter on the Blackpool's North Shore - all pediments, cartouches and ornate iron brackets. Well, new shelters have been built on the South Shore that completely disregard old designs of this sort. And, further up the coast new, modern shelters are appearing as part of Cleveleys' new sea-defences. No one thought for a moment to create shelters that looked like, or drew their inspiration from examples such as the one in the photograph. This shelter is of its time, is not without distinction, but certainly isn't of today. Car designers need to take note!

I took this shot on cold sunny day when the biting wind made a cliff-top walk a challenge rather than a pleasure. But that didn't stop the determined, two of whom I included in my image. I placed the shelter very slightly off centre to balance the people, and post-processed in contrasty black and white to emphasise the strong forms. The photograph was taken with a medium zoom lens at 36mm (35mm equivalent) with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f7.1 at 1/320 second), ISO 100, with -1.3EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen