Art Center: Project 2050

Freeman Thomas, class of 1983, is one of Art Center’s many celebrated car designers. Cocreator (with fellow alumnus J Mays) of the Volkswagen Beetle and designer of the hugely influential Audi TT, Thomas now runs DaimlerChrysler’s Pacifica design studio, an innovative lab responsible for concept cars and what he calls “all the advanced architecture.”

Every year a corporation or a company collaborates on class projects with Art Center students to produce a brief and help critique final projects. In 2002 he and his DaimlerChrysler colleagues created Project 2050, which asked students to design a “land vehicle” for the middle of the twenty-first century based on an iconic person. “We tried to fashion a process that would lead them to an original solution,” Thomas says. “It wasn’t just transportation designers but also product and marketing students as well.”

The futuristic brief posited a world where “the ability to synthesize a special individual’s brain patterns from their genetic material” had become a reality. “Marketing wizards and product creators will search history for visionary icons of ideology, philosophy, culture, and the arts in the hopes of being the first to apply artificial intellect to their product development,” the brief read. “How would Michelangelo have solved the problem? We are on the brink of knowing.”

“When Freeman came up to explain the brief to us, we were like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. We can’t predict the trends in 2050,’” says Sonia Kim, who created the Chrysler Blue 3.0, a sleek, taut vehicle based on the jazz legend Miles Davis. “I researched the whole Kind of Blue period, where Davis talks about the negative and positive spaces in his music,” she says. “For the exterior of the car, I designed it with a minimal amount of lines, but I wanted those lines to be really defined. This is a lot like his music from that period.”

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