Form as important as function

To Mateo Kris, every object is a sculpture – including cars.

For Dr Mateo Kries, Director of the Vitra Design Museum on the banks of the Rhine River, even everyday objects like cars are artistic objects where form and even colour are as important as performance.

23 October, 2023

'It’s my professional deformation that I perceive cars as sculptures, and all other everyday objects as well'

Every week, Mateo Kries commutes between the hectic streets of Berlin and the idyllic scenery of Weil am Rhein near the Swill border. Here, in the far southwest of Germany, you will find one of the world’s leading design museums – the Vitra Design Museum. Kries, an art historian, curator and author, has worked for the design institution for more than half of his life and today is the director of the museum. So, it’s perhaps not a great surprise to learn that he looks at everything from a design perspective, not least.when it comes to cars: 

“It’s my professional deformation that I perceive cars as sculptures, and all other everyday objects as well,” Kries admits. While working in Weil am Rhein he drives the Audi Q4 e-tron as his company car, while in his private life its an Audi Q8 e-tron that occupies the family garage.

That artistic eye doesn’t just admire form but also the subtle nuances of colour and how it they too make a visual statement for all to see.

When it comes to design and colours, Kries is a fan of minimalism. To that end, there interior design of both of his vehicles deliver with clean minimalistic layout and Kries for one certainly does not miss all the buttons and switches that once used to be in the vehicles.

“The responsiveness of the touch screens in the e-tron models is great, everything works at the touch of a finger – it’s a really neat combination of digital and haptic technology.” Less design is more, according to Kries. 

“A delicate, angular and square design offers more clarity in today’s world of high visual stimulation,” he says as he walks through the Schaudepot at the Vitra Design Museum. For its annual presentation, which will be on display until May 2024, the Schaudepot has enlisted Dutch designer Sabine Marcelis to create an installation entirely devoted to colour – which also plays a significant role in the design of vehicles.

“For me, automotive design can be compared to choosing your outfit every day,” Kries explains. You wouldn’t wear your yellow or red sweater every day, which is why Kries also prefers timeless, muted tones in the automotive industry. “At the end of the day, cars are an integral part of our entire visual environment,” he says. 

The Audi Q4 e-tron in Weil am Rhein is Typhoon Grey, which Kries describes as a particularly layered colour. “The special thing about this colour is that new reflections will appear, depending on the angle and the light,” Kries explains.

Without doubt though, his favourite colour is green. He associates it with nature and plants. But he would only pick it for his car if he lived in the countryside. 

'For me, automotive design can be compared to choosing your outfit every day'

'Colours are visual statements, they are often tied to certain statements'

“Colours are visual statements, they are often tied to certain statements,” says Kries. “So, driving a green car in an urban environment like Berlin, for example, could be stating that you’re a forester or an estate owner.” But when it comes to the interior, he would like designers to be more experimental with colours, as this will have a greater impact on the well-being of the passengers. “I would imagine that seats in green or yellow tones or an interior dipped in pastel colours could be popular with the customers, as it adds to a more relaxed atmosphere.” 

In terms of the exterior palette, Kries notes the use of colours to differentiate EVs from their ICE counterparts.

“I noticed that electric cars already come in different colours – quite often they are two-toned. That has become some kind of signal for electromobility. In my opinion, however, electromobility does not need to be set apart by colour. On the contrary, that would be the wrong approach because it seems artificial.”

But Kries has no such qualm with the virtual mirrors which immediately mark the Q8 e-tron as an all-electric vehicle.

“I quite like the digital wing mirrors on the Audi Q8 e-tron,” he says. “My wife, an artist, even had the idea to create an installation with them – the two little screens in the door where you can see cyclists and pedestrians passing by, look like something out of a feature film. It seems a bit surreal at first, but there’s something futuristic about it.”