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Jun / Jul 2017
The Italian Job

WRITER: Faye Rowe

With a new presence in Dubai servicing the region and its first large-sale interior design project underway in the Emirate, Pininfarina is extending its legacy of Italian design across the GCC. 

You may know the legendary design house, Pininfarina, for having penned such classics as the Lancia Aurelia, Alfa Romeo Spider, Rolls Royce Camargue and Ferrari Testarossa but given that almost every automotive manufacturer has now stopped outsourcing the all-important design process in order to bring it in-house, the Turin-based company had no choice but to reinvent its business model. With its lack of profitability in ten of the past 11 years and ever-mounting debt, job cuts were a necessity and, in the end, just 600 people were retained (down about 90 per cent from its 5,000 a decade ago) before a floundering division that built cars for other manufacturers was shuttered three years ago. 

Luckily, things are now looking up. In 2015, just over three quarters of the Pininfarina stock was acquired by Mahindra, the massive Indian conglomerate, and Pininfarina’s CEO, Silvio Angori explained the benefits, “Mahindra has a customer portfolio of more than 800 clients. We have just 160. Even if 10 per cent of their clients become ours, we would have 80 new clients. That is a 50 per cent increase and the extent of the opportunity.”

 

 

Of course, over the course of its 87-year history Pininfarina has proven it stands for more than just cars, exerting its influence on everything from architecture to vending machines and toothbrushes. Now, its sights are set on expanding to the Middle East, with a new office in Dubai and the staunch support of the Italian Chamber of Commerce, which has elected the chairman of the group, Paolo Pininfarina, to its board of directors in the UAE.

“We explored various options, but the United Arab Emirates is the best location from which to service our regional clients,” said Paolo Pininfarina, when we met him at the launch event for the company’s new office at Capital Club in Dubai. “We are well aware of the vast construction industry and planned projects throughout the Arabian Gulf and are already familiar with Dubai thanks to some of our existing clients from the luxury consumer market. We believe it will be the most interesting place to start working in the region from a business development perspective.”

The firm was originally founded as Carrozzeria Pinin Farina in 1930 by Paolo’s grandfather, Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina, but the company ventured beyond the automobile when it created an offshoot called Pininfarina Extra in 1986. Paolo has overseen over 600 projects since then. This March marked Pininfarina’s first large-scale project in the Middle East – the interior design for the Innovation Centre in The Sustainable City, the first operational net zero energy city in Dubai developed by Diamond Developers. But the company’s new foothold seems to point to a broader game plan.

“I’ve been to Istanbul, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, but most of the time I go to Dubai,” professed the 58-year-old Italian. “Besides being a hub for the Middle East, I believe Dubai is a place where our innovative and emotional proposals are particularly appreciated, both in interior design and building architecture. Of course, we take the local culture into consideration but what makes the difference is the positive attitude to innovation that we experience in the Emirate. There is a great potential.”

 

The Higold headquarters, in the Shunde District of Foshan, is Pininfarina’s first project in China.

 

Pininfarina’s global footprint already includes award-winning projects like the traffic control tower for the new Istanbul airport, headquarters for a Chinese conglomerate and another in Brazil but the region’s dynamic business climate is particularly appealing.

“The Middle East is a region that truly represents what significant design achievements can be realised in a short space of time given ambition, vision, passion and technical skill,” said Pininfarina. “We are looking forward to making a lasting contribution to the region’s architecture and will be announcing significant new projects in the months ahead.”

Building the Future
A key focus for Pininfarina’s work in the region will be in the field of architecture and, specifically, “bringing movement and dynamism to buildings”. The company is known for its innovative and elegant style which, in architecture, translates to striking structures inspired by the curvature and fast lines of the family’s automotive legacy. Recent accolades include the 2016 iF Design Award for the residential tower Cyrela by Pininfarina in São Paolo, the 2015 American Architecture Award and 2017 German Design Award for Vitra in Balneario Camboriù and the 2016 International Architecture Award for the aforementioned air traffic control tower in Istanbul new airport.

“As a brand, Pininfarina has focused its business on creating customised designs for a highly discerning audience and this is something that has our Middle East consumers look for,” said Pininfarina who took on the role of Chairman and CEO of Pininfarina Extra in 1987 and whose projects have spanned everything from architecture to designs for yachts and private jets and even furniture and sporting goods. The company has often worked in collaboration with top international companies such as Bovet, Chivas Regal, Coca-Cola, Juventus, Lavazza, Motorola, Samsung and Unilever.

“The Gulf is developing at an incredible pace, with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE consistently pushing the limits of design and engineering,” he said. “As a company that shares the philosophy of pushing the limits of design, we feel there is a great amount of potential in the region to work with developers who share our vision for creating extraordinary projects that will become synonymous with the region’s skyline.”

From a design point of view, the projects will be coordinated from the Italian headquarters in collaboration with local architectural studios.

“In the future, as we did for our Miami-based subsidiary, we plan to build a team of architects and designers that will operate in tight collaboration with Cambiano, our headquarters just outside of Turin in Italy,” said Pininfarina.

With a wide variety of mixed-use, commercial, residential and recreational developments to its name, the company is open to all possibilities, including of course the expanding sectors of hospitality and public infrastructure, but also private residences.

 

The Innovation Centre in Dubai’s Sustainable City.

 

Fuelling the Family Legacy
Pininfarina’s first car – the 1947 Cisitalia 202 – was the first and is the only car to be on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York since 1961. And though its long-standing collaboration with Ferrari has now all but ended, Paolo Pininfarina shows an unbounded determination to push the family’s creative legacy forward.
“The secret of living a happy life is to think positive, as much as possible,” he reflects. “I am always curious about new experiences, partnerships and adventures and try not to be overstressed by responsibilities. And it’s important to smile and joke about things, to be ironic.”

“I remember when my grandfather saw a crowd of people taking pictures of his masterpiece, the Cisitalia 202 at MoMA, he said to his friend beside him: ‘You see, we do things for the people’.”

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