until march 19th 2017, la triennale di milano will play host to ‘mario bellini: italian beauty’, a momentous exhibition dedicated to the lifelong work of the famed milanese architect and designer. born in 1935, mario bellini graduated with a degree in architecture from milan polytechnic 1959 and quickly became known as innovator within his field, pioneering some of the most essential and remarkable designs of our time. taking place exactly 30 years since his retrospective at the museum of modern art in new york, the exhibition is spread out over ten thousand square feet and features installation design by bellini himself. one of bellini’s most well loved and well recognized designs is that of the ‘kar-a-sutra’ concept car, a ‘mobile human space’ imagined by the architect as an antidote to the cramped, mundane and restrictive automobiles of the time.

 

designboom caught up with bellini at the opening of the retrospective to talk about the origins of the idea, and the effect it had on the world of design.

 

 

video © designboom 

 

‘(the kar-a-sutra car) is not a real product. it’s something to talk about the meaning of moving. a new territory, visiting around and having people involved with this adventure’, explains bellini. ‘you can open the top and stand out and take photos. you can charter half a concert piano and move it from somewhere to elsewhere. you can really say something about cars which hasn’t been told already.’ 

 

designed in 1972, the concept car is often considered the first of its kind, not a marketable product but rather a vehicle for conversation and change. in a world that was dominated by the automotive industry, bellini felt the need for a radical change in the way society approached transport. the role that car ownership had to play in the language of societal hierarchy, the dominance of the car in urban centers, and humanity’s overall reliance on the vehicle for transport, tourism and work led the architect to imagine something completely different. interestingly, it’s something that we’re only coming close to fully realizing today.   

mario-bellini-kar-a-sutra-triennale-milano-designboom-002
one of bellini’s most well loved and well recognized concepts is that of the kar-a-sutra
image by designboom (excerpt from the catalogue ‘italy: the new domestic landscape’, 1972)
courtesy of mario bellini

 

 

‘it is principally in this perspective of human space in motion that the automobile must discover its own proper role, the reasons for its own survival as a positive force’, writes bellini in ‘italy: the new domestic landscape’, the book published alongside the MoMA exhibition at which the concept was revealed. ‘the dream of the automobile salesman — an automobile each year for every year of every human being — cannot possibly last much longer. in any case, as a means of locomotion serving almost exclusively individual ends, and at very high cost, the automobile would in any case reach some critical limit in the extent of its indeterminate multiplication’. 

mario-bellini-kar-a-sutra-triennale-milano-designboom-003
it was imagined by bellini as an antidote to the cramped, mundane and restrictive automobile design of the time
image by designboom (excerpt from the catalogue ‘italy: the new domestic landscape’, 1972)
courtesy of mario bellini

 

 

characterized by large windows and an open plan carriage, the ‘kar-a-sutra’ was created so that passengers and drivers alike could engage with the world around them, rather than be cut off from it. the plush, comfortable interior could be easily reassembled and reimagined, opening the space for a multitude of different uses. bellini’s insight into the future of the automotive industry was particularly accurate. with a world of self driving cars on the horizon, manufacturers are looking to new ways of transforming the car as we know it into what is now considered the ‘third space’ — a mobile base that exists in addition to ‘home’ and ‘work’, acting as a bridge between our various site of habitation. at CES this year, chysler debuted their ‘portal’ concept car, a vehicle designed to grow alongside its owner, ending the car culture of regular replacement or updating. at design miami 2016, AUDI announced its vision for the future: an autonomous car dedicated to freeing up an entire extra hour of your day. 

mario-bellini-kar-a-sutra-triennale-milano-designboom-004
‘(the kar-a-sutra car) is not a real product. it’s something to talk about the meaning of moving.’
image by designboom (excerpt from the catalogue ‘italy: the new domestic landscape’, 1972)
courtesy of mario bellini

 

 

of course, the ‘kar-a-sutra’ already had this covered. apart altogether from piloted vehicles or cars of the future, the big green machine more than made waves in the automotive industry of the time. ‘the car historians are saying that this has surely inspired the first renault car called ‘espace”, smiles bellini. the likeness between the two is evident. ‘and today many other MVPs — multi purpose vehicles — the way of using cars has improved a lot.’ fun and freedom lay at the heart of the ‘kar-a-sutra’, elements essential to the design of vehicles today. the vehicle — and its accompanying entourage of mimes — made a characterful reappearance at the 2016 frieze art fair in new york, where visitors were to treated to both a glimpse at the history of the automobile, and at its future. 

 

‘mario bellini: italian beauty’ will show at la triennale di milano until march 19th, 2017.

mario-bellini-kar-a-sutra-triennale-milano-designboom-005
designed in 1972, the concept car is often considered the first of its kind
image by designboom (excerpt from the catalogue ‘italy: the new domestic landscape’, 1972)
courtesy of mario bellini

mario-bellini-kar-a-sutra-triennale-milano-designboom-006
not a marketable product but rather a vehicle for conversation and change
image by designboom (excerpt from the catalogue ‘italy: the new domestic landscape’, 1972)
courtesy of mario bellini

mario-bellini-kar-a-sutra-triennale-milano-designboom-007
in a world that was dominated by the automotive industry, bellini felt the need for a radical change
image by designboom (excerpt from the catalogue ‘italy: the new domestic landscape’, 1972)
courtesy of mario bellini

mario-bellini-kar-a-sutra-triennale-milano-designboom-008
interestingly, it’s something that we’re only coming close to fully realizing today
image by designboom (excerpt from the catalogue ‘italy: the new domestic landscape’, 1972)
courtesy of mario bellini

mario-bellini-kar-a-sutra-triennale-milano-designboom-edit
the kar-a-sutra was created so that passengers and drivers alike could engage with the world around them
image by designboom (excerpt from the catalogue ‘italy: the new domestic landscape’, 1972)
courtesy of mario bellini

mario-bellini-kar-a-sutra-triennale-milano-designboom-010
the plush, comfortable interior could be easily reassembled and reimagined
image by designboom
courtesy of mario bellini

mario-bellini-kar-a-sutra-triennale-milano-designboom-011
manufacturers are looking to ways of transforming the car as we know it into what is now considered the ‘third space’
‘mario bellini: italian beauty’ installation view
image by designboom

mario-bellini-designboom-01
‘mario bellini: italian beauty’ is showing at la triennale di milano until march 19th, 2017
image by designboom

  • Still a valid concept surely!

    Achla says:
  • I saw this car at the moma show in 1972, and couldn’t wait to drive one when they hit the showrooms. Alas, it was a mock-up and not real. Somewhere I have slides of the Kar-a-Sutra that I took at the show. Where is the Kar-a-Sutra now?

    Christopher Moore says:

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