Design in Tension

Appearing in advance of its hardtop and four-door counterparts, the new6 Series Convertible embodies the latest direction for BMW design. To find out how it came into being, we talk with its designer, Nader Faghizadeh.

Photo: Design in Tension 4
April 1, 2011

Nader Faghizadeh drew his first automotive interior before he was even five years old, yet despite his prodigious talent, he considered careers in IT and medicine before being led back to his passion by a relative who worked in the design department at Mitsubishi. He studied transportation design at Pforzheim University before attending the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, which led to internships at Mercedes-Benz and BMWDesignWorksUSA. With support from BMW’s current and former design directors Adrian van Hooydonk and Chris Bangle, Faghizadeh joined the team at BMW. Before penning the exterior of the new F14 6 Series, he designed the interior of the F01 7 Series.

Bimmer editor Jackie Jouret spoke with Faghizadeh in Cape Town, South Africa at the launch of the 650i Convertible.

Bimmer: Tell us about the difference between designing a car’s interior and exterior.

Faghizadeh: There’s a big philosophical difference. The interior is more for the driver or the people in the car. The exterior is a little more democratic. It’s a sculpture, and it’s also a reflection of everything surrounding it.

Bimmer: What did you want the 6 to contribute to the visual environment?

Faghizadeh: The first thing is that it is very exclusive, luxurious—our biggest convertible.

The inspiration for me was the geometry of water. A boat going through water makes a wave. It creates some very hard edges with soft surfaces. This was something you could also translate into the surfaces of the car, and it always looks good because it has a direction. If you look at the front of the car from the BMW badge, it’s opening a wave. There are no constant corners, there’s always movement. Especially when the car moves, the surfaces create a certain life, which creates also an athletic elegance.

Bimmer: How do wave forms differ from flame surfacing?

Faghizadeh: There are some connections, if you see it as a philosophy. Flames also have certain precision and softness. Flame surfacing is part of our design history, but this is a new generation of luxurious cars, and that’s part of the hidden story of the car. In this class of convertible, the maritime world has a closer connection.

Bimmer: Some cars from the ’20s and ’30s have an overt nautical theme, like the bow of a boat stuck onto the back of a car.

Photo: Design in Tension 1

Faghizadeh: As a strong brand like BMW, we have to look into history. Of course, as designers we have to look into the future, at what could be the next generation, but the history is still important. Look at the flow of fenders in the ’20s and ’30s, for example, at the way they show the flow of power, and then look at the new 6 and you can see from the fender and the rocker beam together how the power flows to the wheels of the rear axle and creates this athletic elegance I mentioned.

Bimmer: When you walk through the BMW Museum, what stands out as an essential BMW?

Faghizadeh: I think a strong picture for me and for many others is the 328. It has a strong face, it’s lovely to see, it’s friendly and you will remember it. It’s so iconic, the lovely rounded surfaces together with the graphics. Also the 507, which is also aesthetically unique and very personal for its designer [Albrecht von Goertz]. The shark face of the car is remarkable, for example.

Also, the Baroque Angel is a very heavy-looking, maybe even ugly car, but it also creates a very strong character, and sometimes the character is what makes the car important again after many years.

Bimmer: The cars you mentioned have very organic forms. Are we getting away from machine-derived forms and back into organics?

Faghizadeh: Yes, but if you look at recent BMWs, we’ve always tried to create tension. All the architectural lines, bodywork, surfaces—even if a section has something organic, it’s in tension.

If you look at the 6, it looks longer than it is. The package points and outlines are very close to the mannequins and every motor point—everything is very compact. That means it’s like an athlete wearing very tight clothing, which lets him look bigger and more vital, even more athletic.

Bimmer: Whom do you see driving the car? Is the 6 Series still a “chick car”?

Faghizadeh: In the beginning, I had two images: Sean Connery at his best and Nicole Kidman. I can imagine, of course, a woman driving this car, and I think the percentage would be very high.

It depends, because the 6 changes character with its color, much more so than the previous generation did, because of what happens with the highlights in the bodywork. The deeper and darker the color, the more masculine it looks—in black, it looks very assertive, aggressive maybe. In lighter colors, maybe it’s more feminine. The 6 Series has always been the sister to the 7 Series, somehow, but with this one it depends on the color and the options.

Photo: Design in Tension 2

Bimmer: It seems like ornament is making a comeback in the form of chrome trim, etc.

Faghizadeh: I think the interaction of surface and proportion is very important, where to put the accents and the tension, the muscle. It’s difficult to work on the proportion without knowing what to do with the surface. They need a relationship. For example, if you look at the rear axle of the car, you see from the top how the surface comes out to the wheels. It creates a very strong, stable stance. This power flow in the direction of the wheels creates something very emotional. Big wheels are very important in this class, and so is how the surfaces interact with the wheels.

Bimmer: What did you learn in the clay model stage that you didn’t know when you drew the car on paper?

Faghizadeh: I wanted to have a good connection between the side view and the rear—a very nice flow. In renderings, this worked in one perspective, but we couldn’t make it work on the car because of some proportion things. This was something we worked on in the clay model, to see what happens with the flow and how we could bring these things together. Also, the functionality of the rear with the roof kinematics brings a lot of trouble to the form. It was something you had to try in clay and see if you could get the package together and then try to bring the emotion of the sketch into it. That was the biggest issue.

Bimmer: Did anything change when you then took the clay model into the wind tunnel?

Faghizadeh: Surprisingly not. It was quite good. The only thing was at the front, the air intake, the chin spoiler was a little bit higher. For aerodynamics, it would be better a little lower, and for design it was an advantage, too. But the rest was surprisingly good.

Bimmer: Could you have updated the 6 using the same dimensions as the E64, or is it part of the process to always make a car bigger with each successive generation?

Faghizadeh: I don’t think we have to get bigger with our next-generation cars, necessarily, but in this case, it brought an advantage to the concept. The rear seats needed a little bit more space. Pedestrian safety was an issue, which changed the proportion of the front overhang a little bit.

The big engines were another issue. The new V8 was a little better, package-wise, but the pedestrian safety issues made it worse. Creating this flat hood was not easy. The distance to the motor has to be at least 30mm, but we couldn’t get that close without destroying everything. In the end, we decided on an active hood, with pyrotechnics to give us 30mm at the hood and 50mm at the A-pillar.

Bimmer: The new LED lights seem to have given you a lot of design freedom.

Photo: Design in Tension 3

Faghizadeh: With LED technology, it’s possible to make very fluid surfaces, threedimensional sculptural surfaces. You can do any surface you want.

Bimmer: Have there been similar breakthroughs for the sheet metal? And when do you start involving the production people to make sure the shape you’ve created can be built?

Faghizadeh: In the clay modeling phase. You have to produce the car somehow. We fight so much to see what is possible. For instance, the door is aluminum and the fender is steel, and they have different possibilities of sharpness. Creases in aluminum need a bigger radius, and the character line on the door is the maximum you can create. The rear fender is steel and can be made sharper, but we had to make it bigger to match the door. For a big car like this, I think this is sharp enough. If it’s too sharp, it looks cheap, and it doesn’t look massive any more.

Bimmer: This car’s interior really differentiates between the spaces for the driver and the passenger. Is that reflected in the exterior?

Faghizadeh: The driver orientation was a big thing. It should be visible, and the driver should feel like he is in command. But the other thing is that the fluid lines and the surfaces that embrace the driver and the co-driver both separate and connect. There is one big connection through the whole thing, but there is also a partial separation with the driver orientation, which brings a lot of tension into the whole concept.

Bimmer: Are you working with the designer of the interior [Christian Bauer] throughout the process to make sure there’s a design coherence?

Faghizadeh: Yes, especially with the wave lines to the interior—we discussed how we could connect these things.

But this was the only thing. The rest was this philosophy of having these fluid lines, like sitting in a powerboat where the lines are rising toward you, you have this convergence, you see the surfaces rising. This creates a very powerful image.

Bimmer: How did you feel when you saw the 6 Series in motion for the first time?

Faghizadeh: It’s great to see the car driving. In the clay studio, you try to move your head to imagine how the car would look in motion, and if you see the car on the road and it works like you thought, this is a good moment.

Bimmer: If you could own any car ever made, what would it be?

Faghizadeh: I like the Aston Martin DB2, the Mercedes Gullwing—I like BMWs, but I think it should be another car when I have the choice! Marcelo Gandini did some good designs. I like the Lamborghini Miura…in yellow!

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