Gorden Wagener sits on the sofa studying a piece of granite. He turns and feels the small stone as he holds it between his fingers. It is long and grey, with no corners or sharp edges. A piece of the earth’s surface, created over many millions of years, formed by the elements. A thing of essential beauty and elegance. Not a hint of vulgarity, not a trace of pathos. Smooth and pleasant to the touch, the stone is the epitome of clarity and purity. Gorden Wagener, who has headed design at Mercedes-Benz since 2008, calls this “the DNA of form.”
To Daimler AG’s Chief Design Officer, who was born in 1968, granite is a source of inspiration, symbolic of the “sensual purity” design philosophy that Wagener applies across all the company’s brands and products. Each innovation, each vehicle developed by Mercedes-Benz, evokes emotion and intelligence.
Indeed, with this new philosophy, Wagener has redefined the concept of luxury. He refers to this new notion as “modern luxury,” indicative of a mindset that no longer seeks to accumulate assets and put them on show, but rather focuses on meaningfulness. “Intelligent people are highly selective,” explains the British design critic Stephen Bayley. “They don’t want more, they want better.” In effect, they want a heightened sense of purposefulness.
Freedom, space and serenity. Room to breathe, time. Principles that have long found their way into contemporary car design and that are set to play an increasingly important role. More and more, the car is becoming a space for personal retreat. Smart, autonomous, networked. A vehicle with flowing forms and functions that do not conflict with the surrounding environment but enhance it.
The philosophy of sensual purity, of combined technical and emotional intelligence, is not something Gorden Wagener limits to automobiles alone. In this respect, he and his team continually examine questions such as: “What are the societal aims of our mission?” “What will the urban future look like?” “What will the mobile technology of tomorrow enable?” Their work focuses on the interplay of numerous factors. New technologies play a role, as do urban planning and architecture. The careful use of resources must be considered, as must the needs and wishes of the next generations. And of special significance in this age are the questions of what path the digital revolution must take in order for it not to smother us, but to free us; of how we can best use the increasing abundance of data; and of how we can turn zettabytes and yottabytes into a meaningful language of the future.
Design plays a central role in this process of evolution, serving as a critical interface between the external and internal worlds, between technology and emotion. The book Sensual Purity – Gorden Wagener on Design provides us with fascinating insights into the renowned designer’s mind. It allows us to witness his team at work, read pertinent philosophers’ essays and listen in on Wagener’s conversations with leading creatives. Particularly compelling is the peek behind the scenes at his design studio. Here we see design drafts of the future – a future in which mobility blends seamlessly with life, in which skyscrapers and gardens coexist, in which bridges have become high-speed glass tunnels and in which drones glide past us overhead like birds.
Pipe dreams? Perhaps. But design is all about fantastic notions – you won’t get far in the business without them. That’s why Wagener’s team consults regularly with neuroscientists, visionary architects and digital nomads. Their aim: to explore the realms between knowledge and dreams, to push the boundaries between the possible and the impossible and to promote a cultural diversity that gives California surfers as much of a say as German engineers.
The fruits of this exchange of ideas and expertise can be seen in the dreamscapes presented in the “Mercedes-Benz Future World” section of the book. Here we see marinas that rise up out of the water like manta rays. Cars that can be steered by mind power alone. Intelligent bridges that extend across channels like the wings of an albatross. We see people sitting before floating screens, viewing platforms thousands of metres above the ocean. A new world that blends into the existing world, imbued with a sense of purity.
Gorden Wagener still holds the stone in his hands. Imposing yet unimposing. Perfect. With no sharp edges, no corners. Sensual and pure.