Independent filmmaker, Gary Hustwit, is sharing some of his work online for free during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Gary’s excellent documentary on legendary designer, Dieter Rams, is available from tomorrow for one week only. I will be watching it again and recommend it to everyone.
“You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people,” says Rams, who is often described as the father of modern product design. Dieter’s core principles will chime with any classic Porsche aficionado, as they had an undeniable influence on Ferry Porsche’s design team. Rams’ famous ten principles state that good design:
makes a product useful
makes a product understandable
is long lasting
is thorough down to the last detail
is environmentally friendly
is as little design as possible
The philosophy is summed up as “less, but better” and that is just how this documentary is shot. Everything is considered and measured. The addition of a soundtrack by the great Brian Eno is perfect simpatico.
About Gary Hustwit
I can’t remember how I found Gary Hustwit: it might have been credits in the “Abstract” series on Netflix. However it happened, it was a good day. Gary’s journey into creating unforgettable design documentaries wended its way through an early career releasing punk music for SST Records, running an independent book publishers, founding a media website and eventually opening an independent DVD label: Plexifilm. Work released through Plexifilm included films by Andy Warhol and David Byrne and encouraged Hustwit to create his own content.
Hustwit’s directorial debut came in 2007, with the release of ‘Helvetica’: a feature-length documentary about graphic design and typography. The first in a trilogy of work on design, it was followed by 2009’s ‘Objectified’ (covering industrial and product design) and ‘Urbanized’: a 2011 documentary about the design of cities.
Gary’s feature-length 2018 documentary on Dieter Rams is a superb introduction to this exceptional design mind. Produced and directed by Hustwit, the director describes ‘Rams’ as “a documentary portrait of one of the most influential designers alive, and a rumination on consumerism, sustainability, and the future of design.”
About Dieter Rams
Dieter Rams was born in 1932 in Wiesbaden, Germany. While training as an architect at the Wiesbaden School of Art, Rams also completed a carpentry apprenticeship. He began his architectural career with a practice in Frankfurt, but his work soon caught the eye of the Braun brothers, Artur and Erwin. The brothers had taken control of the family firm after the sudden death of their father, Max, in 1951. They liked Rams’ design ideas and brought him to their company in 1955.
Rams served as Head of Design from 1961 to 1995, championing the relationship between form and function. Rams unified the identity of all Braun products, whatever their purpose. The success of this groundbreaking approach was no accident. Artur and Erwin Braun’s vision and the new design attitude personified by Rams were perfectly attuned.
Sadly, the Braun brothers passed away before Hustwit could interview them for his documentary, but there was no shortage of contemporary designers willing to testify to Rams’ influence on the German design renaissance though the 1950s and 1960s. Watching the documentary, I found I had unknowingly owned and enjoyed quite a bit of Dieter’s work, including a much-loved Braun travel clock, which I got as a present before leaving Ireland for London in the late 1980s. To top it all, we find that, of course, Dieter Rams drives a Porsche 911.
I urge you to watch this excellent documentary and to check out Gary’s other work. It will make you think differently, and perhaps make you act a little differently, too. Also check out the Oh You Pretty Things webshop: after watching the Rams documentary, I bought a signed poster from the South Korean launch of the Rams’ documentary. It will go on the wall of my office, whenever I finish that!
It’s telling that item two of Dr Brett Johnson’s list of “eleven essential items to bring along when heading out to view a Porsche 356 for sale” – part of Veloce Publishing’s latest Porsche 356 Essential Buyer’s Guide – is reading glasses. “Take your reading glasses if you need them to read documents and make close up inspections” advises the good Doctor. He is not wrong. Most people I know with the resources to buy a classic Porsche 356 have definitely advanced to the reading glasses stage.
“There was a time when Porsche 356s were reasonably priced transportation for people without children. Regrettably, that was fifty years ago. Now they are high-priced toys for the same demographic,” says Brett. I enjoy this sort of writing. The latest edition of “The Essential Buyer’s Guide: Porsche 356” has the same tone throughout, asserting what to steer clear of in a clear and light-hearted way, without being overly onerous.
The book opens with a short introduction before working its way through seventeen chapters. The early chapters explore considerations when the purchase is still at the dream stage, but as the first viewing looms closer, the content firms up, with two chapters on what to look for in both a 15-minute inspection and a 60-minute inspection.
Four pages cover the model evolution: you’ll probably have experienced a few cars by the time you decide to get serious. I’ve driven quite a few 356s and they are all fun to be in, so it’s hard to pick one that I would buy if in the market. While the early cars have that proximity to the origin story, the later ones get things like disc brakes. Early cars are perhaps a bit prettier: I think a pre-A is a beautiful thing. They are all fairly tough. Whichever model you drive, it will turn heads, especially with ladies. Good 356s are also very solid residually.
The author’s track record is worth noting. The former veterinarian and Porsche part expert’s 1997 book: “The 356 Porsche: A Restorer’s Guide to Authenticity” has a 4.5 rating from 32 Amazon reviews. With circa 45,000 copies sold to date, the original version gets a few thumbs down for the lack of engine details and darker black-and-white photographs typical of a budget production, but good feedback on the rest. Later editions are available.
This compact 64-page Buyer’s Guide from the same author features many colour photos, but all are quite small, contributing colour and diversity rather than much information. The text has many interesting details, however: certainly enough to educate any 356 novice. I like how Brett engages the reader. I found nothing disagreeable. As a 356 fan but no sort of expert, I learned quite a bit by reading the book.
Reaching the end left me hungry for more, so I looked at used prices for the bigger restoration guide and dug out some of my own 356 books. While there is more than enough information in the Essential Buyer’s Guide to justify a purchase, I can see some people getting through it quite quickly and reading a second time to review what they missed.
While a buyer’s guide book should not be expected to replace the trained eye of a seasoned expert – and my advice is to always have a car inspected by an expert before any money changes hands – the low cost of this work versus the substantial time one would have to invest elsewhere to learn all that it covers means that this book should be considered essential reading for anyone setting out to buy a Porsche 356. With 356s now costing upwards of $56k for a barn find with interesting one-owner provenance at auction and no real upper limit for the very best cars, educating oneself on what to watch out for and thus save a lot of wasted time and effort is a total no-brainer. This little book is definitely worth having.
The publisher’s price is £13.99 in the UK, although Amazon is showing some cheaper prices. Veloce is currently doing a 35% off stay at home sale, so that’s worth a look too. Visit the webshop at veloce.co.uk/store/.
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Ferdinand blogs my freelance adventure with Porsche at the centre. To support the blog or engage with me in other ways, you can:
“If you really want to learn and get better at anything and to have any chance of becoming an expert, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. That’s because thinking takes effort. It involves fighting through confusion and, for most of us, that’s at least somewhat unpleasant.”
So says the closing quote in a great video by Veritasium, one of my favourite Youtube channels. If you share my goal to finish each day a little smarter than you started it, this channel is indispensable.
In his video “The Science of Thinking” (scroll down), Veritasium’s Derek Muller dives into the System 1/System 2 thinking model explored so eloquently in Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow” and shows why learning feels hard and takes time. I’ve been struggling with this truth all week, as I set myself a project to understand more about energy.
The Origins of Energy
Today we may think of the concept of energy as fundamental to the human experience, but it’s a relatively recent arrival. Though Aristotle spoke of “energeia” in the fourth century BC, the Greek word was not directly translatable. The German mathematician and philosopher, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, formulated ideas corresponding to our modern understanding of kinetic and potential energy in the 17th century, but it was not until the early part of the 19th century that Thomas Young used the term ‘energy’ in the way we mean it today.
Young’s use of the word did not gain traction and it popped up only sporadically in science until Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity in 1905. By the time his Theory of General Relativity was published in 1916, the notion of energy was becoming widespread. But let’s go back to Leibniz.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was born in Leipzig in July 1646. His father – a professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Leipzig – died when Gottfried was six years old, leaving his son a substantial library. In April 1661, the fourteen year-old enrolled at Leipzig, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy just eighteen months later. He then spent another year earning a masters in the subject.
Opining that philosophy and law were connected in theory and practice, Leibniz then spent a year studying law and was awarded a bachelor’s degree in the subject in September 1665. The following year, Leipzig refused the young man’s application for a doctorate – a process that normally took three years and included a licence to practice law – so he left Leipzig and went to the University of Altdorf. The university awarded the twenty year-old with his licence and doctorate in February 1667. They also offered him an academic position, which he declined.
Leibniz’ life is an incredible story. He worked in alchemy, law and international diplomacy until a meeting with a physicist and mathematician revealed a flawed understanding of both subjects. Studying maths led to the formulation of an entirely new form of calculus and the invention of a calculating machine called the Stepped Reckoner, a model of which he presented to the Royal Society in the 1673. The Society instantly made him a member.
Period engineering struggled to manufacture the intricate machine, but restoration of his final version in the late 19th century showed that it worked. The machine survives in the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz library at the University of Hanover.
Leibniz vs Newton and Descartes
Leibniz was active across many areas and his work brought him into conflict with other thinkers of the time, including Newton and Descartes. Sides taken in the fallout from these disputes would lead to virtual anonymity at the time of his death, but his work has since earned significant approval.
Many of Leibniz’ ideas would not be proven until centuries later. Positioning himself against Newton, he argued that space, time and motion were relative rather than absolute. This was not settled until Einstein and the discovery of subatomic particles supported Leibniz’ theory of motion, based on the existence of both kinetic and potential energy.
Other Leibniz ideas included the molten core of the earth, the existence of an unconscious mind and the development of national insurance systems. He pre-empted game theory and information theory and is regarded as one of the first computer scientists: while researching other cultures and comparing notes on metaphysics, Leibniz read the Chinese I Ching text and reinterpreted the Ying/Yang symbol as a zero and one.
I don’t know where to stop with Leibniz: he is simply incredible. Nowadays, a person with one game-changing idea in life is granted hero status, but here is a man to match Da Vinci and yet we have scarcely heard of him. I tripped over him in a BBC video on the concept of energy, which led me to Leibniz and Emmy Noether’s theorem on the physics of symmetry. This is where my tiny brain is struggling hardest at the minute, but I am working on it.
Porsche Parts: Pure Energy
When I was first sent the photos accompanying this post, they immediately intrigued me. Shot by a famous German photographer, the images show various Porsche parts in an explosive state of animation. Echoing the two-dimensional parts diagrams all car enthusiasts will be familiar with, these energetic three-dimensional photos of Porsche parts challenge our notions of the inanimate nature of car parts and question our concept of energy in a pivotal time for consideration and conservation.
As energy cannot be created or destroyed, the energy that went into creating these parts and the energy they will generate throughout their useful life is significant. Even static, every part in these photos embodies energy that has surrounded our world since the very beginning.
We must also consider the question of the human energy invested in these parts: the design. manufacture and assembly and the creation of these incredible photographs. Energy everywhere moving from one form to another – a fascinating train of thought, especially if one has watched enough Star Wars movies. May the force be with you.
Our energy future is a significant challenge: whether we will continue to survive as a species largely depends on how we allocate our energy resources and how we choose to expend our own energy. It is important that as well as looking forward, we look back to lives such as Leibniz and Noether and are inspired by the mental energy they invested into stretching the collective consciousness and understanding of the universe.
I’ll conclude with a nod to Leipzig University’s page on the origins of energy as a concept, which I drew upon while writing this piece. “The concept of “energy” has entered common speech in ways that are often confusing and contradictory. Everyday expressions such as “energy production” or “renewable energy” contradict the energy conservation law which, as we recall, asserts that energy cannot be created or destroyed. The scientific definition of energy by the law of energy conservation also does not do much to help us understand expressions like “an energetic person”.
For an everyday working definition of “energy”, we might look back to Aristotle for inspiration. Stated simply, he said: Energy is a condition that describes the capacity to do work.”
While Aristotle’s point is a subtle one and considering the nature of energy to include creative and contemplative energy may be intolerable from a purely mathematical position, being more appreciative of energy and the increasing importance of our relationship with the concept in all of its accepted forms is paramount to our future.
If these engaging images help us to take a step back from viewing their subjects as simply constituent elements in a privileged form of personal transport and classifying them only in terms of the thrills they deliver, they will have transgressed their intended function and inspired more energy than their designers and manufacturers could have ever imagined. That is exciting on so many levels.
Bernd Ebsen – Photographer Oliver Naske – Set in Motion (Set building) Nils Emde – Splash camshaft Imagerefinery – Postproduction Tom Schönfeld – Assistant
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Ferdinand blogs my freelance adventure with Porsche at the centre. To support the blog or engage with me in other ways, you can:
I’ve spent a lot of time with the Singer DLS in recent months. Our paths have crossed on several occasions, so I’ve had plenty of time to explore the project up close. The details are special.
Daniel Simon was creative advisor/top banana on the DLS styling. If you have never heard of the man, it is worth learning more: check out the Daniel Simon website. I follow Daniel on Instagram and his feed is highly engaging: from beautiful sculpted robotic race cars to hanging out with Valentino Rossi and designing with Singer, there’s so much great stuff. Porsche plays more than a small part.
One thing that I found quite surprising when I first started following Daniel was his work on the Star Wars films. “Working on Star Wars Episode VIII was a twenty-year dream come true,” he said. “My contribution is negligible among the insane talent of the entire art department, and it is unforgettable to work with Rian Johnson and the fine folks of ILM.”
Daniel contributed to Episode VIII and also designed several vehicle concepts, including an ‘unstable’ speeder and a luxury cruiser. The artwork is shared on his Instagram feed and is worth checking out, if only to study the level of detail that top line designers will put to in presenting their concepts.
Porsche is not far, far away
Porsche has now announced that some of its own designers will work with the Lucasfilm team to design a ship for the world premiere of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”.
“Developing a spacecraft with clear Porsche design DNA is exciting and challenging,” said Michael Mauer, Vice President Style Porsche at Porsche AG. “Though they don’t seem to share many elements at first glance, both worlds have a similar design philosophy. The close collaboration with the Star Wars design team inspires and fascinates us – I’m sure that both sides can draw major benefits from this exchange.”
I’m not sure about the similar design philosophy bit (not that I am any sort of expert) but the major benefit to the exchange is fairly obvious. Alongside the model starship at the premiere, Porsche will showcase the Taycan. US deliveries start at the end of this year and Hollywood is packed with early adopters, so why not tie the electric sportscar into the PR maelstrom and give it the blessing of Skywalker?
I can see the scene now: “Hello, 911. May the force be with you.” “Hello Taycan. I’m not your father.” I need a t-shirt of this.
Ferdinand blogs my freelance adventure with Porsche at the centre. To support the blog or to engage with me in other ways, you can:
EB Motorsport supplies its lightweight EB Porsche body panels (hashtag #madeinyorkshire) to customers all over the world, but not all customers put these panels on classic 911s. Belgium’s Jean Denis Claessens and his partner, Edmond Thonnard, create interesting artworks using the composite bonnets as emotive canvasses.
One of the pioneers of Belgian street art, Edmond Thonnard has been a video decorator, an exhibition scenographer, a designer and a rock singer. His work has been seen in the biggest global WWI exhibition and in the Liege House of Science and the European Space Centre. Jean-Denis began his career as a graphic designer and moved into advertising in the early 1990s, later developing into film and documentary making.
The duo now work together, creating race-inspired artworks on composite and metal Porsche panels. Each work is an individually hand-made piece created without vinyl. Every bonnet, every door is unique, freely inspired from the decorations of legendary race cars and signed by the artist. The painting is made using the techniques of graffiti art, with the patina added using slag from the race, including oil, tyre rubber and other secret ingredients.
Two art-on-bonnet products are available. Composite bonnets weigh 5 kilograms and are a reproduction to honour the lightness of the great cult race car: the Porsche 935. Steel bonnets weigh 15 kilograms and are real bonnet from a used and iconic Porsche 911. Each work features a riveted panel on the back to prove the authenticity and signed by the artist.
“We import EB panels from England to Belgium as they are the best quality and my clients want a real 911 bonnet; not an ersatz for decoration,” says Jean-Denis. Seems like a cool way to use a lightweight part. I would love to hang something like this: having it painted and then sticking it on a car for a real 6-Hour race – maybe Spa – would be cool. Learn more about these artworks at aftertherace.be.
Unsurprisingly for a house shared by a writer and a teacher, this place is packed full of books and I just added another big pile of them. As work on my new office and garage continues, I recently cleared out my old office and ended up bringing several boxes of books and magazines home. I now have to figure out what to sell and what to keep.
I started buying my own books using book tokens and pocket money before I was ten, but eventually became a huge fan of car magazines, as my favourite motoring writers appeared in print every month: I didn’t have to wait years for their next piece of work. Joining their ranks became my primary ambition.
When I left Ireland and moved to London in the late 1980s, I brought only a handful of books with me, but it didn’t take long for the weekly book buying to start again in the UK, topped up by numerous monthly car magazine subscriptions. Living in a camper van for a couple of years meant getting rid of several hundred magazines and I’ve probably recycled thousands of magazines over the years, but some have survived every clear out and remain in my current collection – I’ll share some of these at some stage.
The Internet has calmed my library size down, as I now tend to buy the stuff I want to read secondhand and then either pass it on to someone else via Facebook or put it back on eBay and see what else is about. Behind the in-and-out regular reads lies a decent sized reference library, all centred on Porsche.
The collection began when I started writing for Porsche magazines alongside writing for Autocar and realised that some of my favourite journalists had written their own Porsche books several years previously. David Vivian and Mike McCarthy’s 911 books were the first ones I read, but Chris Harvey’s excellent book “Porsche 911 in all its forms” – the 1988 edition – remains perhaps my favourite of the journo creations and can often be found for less than a quid on eBay.
As Ferry Porsche was the root of my Porsche fascination, I bought everything Ferry ever had a hand in, so all of his various auto/biographies and some of the books he wrote forewords for, including another of Harvey’s Porsche books. Ferry’s own Cars are my Life is a great read and under a fiver inc delivery from the Air Ambulance shop on Amazon.
I’ve never really been into the brand trophy books, as some of the titles marketed as ultimate reference works are out of date almost as soon as they are published, and the world these cars exist in is always changing. Not to mention that errors are soon found by the forum experts. I prefer the collections of road tests like the Brooklands compendiums, that give real insight and period reaction, as well as comparing the cars to their contemporaries and of course these are much cheaper to buy.
Rainer Schlegelmilch’s compilation of his photos of sports car racing from 1962-1973 is still just £30 to buy at this time and offers a great insight into racing of the period: so different to the re-run events like Le Mans Classic and Mille Miglia Historic which often seem to be aimed mainly at marketing departments “and the one percent”, as my friend John Gray would say.
I’m quite picky in what I keep and many of these office refugees will be off to eBay soon, but I have seen some mega Porsche libraries over the years and know some of you have excellent collections of your own. So my question to answer in the comments is: which ONE Porsche book would you keep if forced to get rid of them all?
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