MINI STRIP. Sustainable design with a twist, by Paul Smith.

Munich/London. The MINI STRIP (co-)created by Paul
Smith is celebrating its world premiere in London on 12 August 2021.
This custom-made one-off car is a product of the collaboration between
MINI and Paul Smith announced in November 2020, which has resulted in
these two iconic British brands sharing creative thoughts on
sustainable design for the past few months. The MINI STRIP shines the
spotlight on an innovative approach to the issue of sustainability in
automotive manufacturing. Guided by the overarching theme of
‘Simplicity, Transparency, Sustainability’, the car showcases
inspirational ideas for a more sustainable method of automotive
design. As the name suggests, the process began by completely
stripping down a three-door MINI Cooper SE and reducing it to its
structural essence. Only those elements that the designer viewed as
absolutely necessary were then defined, implemented and put in place –
with sustainability taking a front seat.

“For me, the MINI STRIP shows in an impressive way that MINI and Paul
Smith share the same bold way of thinking about the future in terms of
innovation and design – and together we create more. Paul asked
essential questions right at the start of the design process with his
non-automotive and therefore fresh perspective. We are proud to have
developed such a strong character statement together.“ explains Oliver
Heilmer, Head of MINI Design.

An outside perspective provides an important source of
MINI has always been receptive to views
from beyond its universe; they help the brand to sharpen its view of
itself and of how it approaches challenges. As a designer with a
passion for bicycles, books and much more besides, Paul Smith asked
questions that provided fresh new impetus to explore beyond the
obvious. “I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to rethink the
iconic MINI,” he says. “I know and love the existing car, but by
respecting the past and looking to the future we have created
something very special. I feel very privileged that the MINI team have
given me the confidence and freedom to think laterally about the
approach to the design of the car. Together I think we have created
something truly unique, by going back to basics, reducing things down
and stripping the car.”

The design – the perfect imperfection.
jointly-led process applied the principle of maximum reduction to
produce a minimalist, high-class design with a fresh and
unconventional appeal. Numerous clever touches endow the exterior of
the three-door MINI Cooper SE with a totally unique aesthetic. Raw
materials are a very deliberate part of the exterior design. This
meant the body was left in its unfinished state with no coloured paint
applied, but instead just a thin film of transparent paint to protect
against corrosion. Grinding marks from the factory have been
consciously left intact on the galvanised steel panels to clearly
identify the car as a functional object and robust companion for
everyday life. This intentionally rough-hewn effect was also dubbed
“the perfect imperfection” by Paul Smith.

The unaffected expressiveness of the
Sections of the familiar MINI black band are
3D-printed from recycled plastic and their basic material qualities
have been left exposed, like the metal panels. Bicycle enthusiast
Smith – who enjoys rolling up his sleeves occasionally and replacing
or modifying individual parts of his road bikes himself – provided the
inspiration for the visible screws in the add-on parts, which show how
simple dismantling would be and how easily the vehicle could be
reincorporated into the raw-material cycle at the end of its service
life. The functional and distinctive front and rear apron inserts were
likewise manufactured in a 3D printing process, which produced their
striking texture.

The blanked-off radiator grille of the MINI STRIP and its wheel
covers help to reduce drag in hallmark electric car fashion, thereby
increasing its theoretical range. The grille trim and aerodynamic
covers on the wheels are made from recycled Perspex, saving both
weight and resources. Recycled Perspex was also used for the large
panoramic roof that allows curious eyes to view the largely bare
structure of the bodyshell inside.

A love of detail.
MINI calls it a ‘twinkle in
the eye’, Paul Smith a ‘classic with a twist’ – both refer to
unexpected details such as high-contrast colour accents that are only
revealed through the designers’ work at second or third glance,
betraying their fondness for details. The same is true of the MINI
STRIP: Opening the doors reveals the signature Paul Smith stripes in a
vivid composition of five colours. The charging flap adds a splash of
neon green when opened, while the engraved drawing of an electric plug
on the flap is Paul Smith’s own work.

Radical reduction in the interior.
STRIP holds true to the motto of ‘Simplicity and Transparency’ on the
inside, too, courtesy of some radical stripping-back. All trim parts
have been purposefully omitted (with the exception of the dashboard,
topper pad and parcel shelf), turning the bodyshell into the dominant
visual feature of the cabin. It has been coloured blue at the explicit
request of Paul Smith, producing a particularly eye-catching effect.
The exposed basic material and intense blue tone give the interior an
aesthetic appeal all of its own; it is bare yet feels “dressed” at the
same time.

Instead of the usual multi-part design, the dashboard consists solely
of a large, semi-transparent section with a smoked-glass finish.
Taking its cue from MINI design’s traditional use of circular
elements, the geometry has been greatly simplified with a far more
graphical interpretation. There is no classical centre instrument,
leaving the driver’s smartphone to take centre stage instead. It is
placed where the centre display would normally be, connects
automatically to the car and, in so doing, becomes the media control
centre. The only physical controls in the interior are located lower
down in the centre stack, where the toggle switches for the power
windows and the start/stop function can be found.

Innovative materials conserve
Alongside the minimalist geometric design
inside the MINI STRIP, the use of recycled, environment-friendly
materials also underpins the car’s sustainability credentials. The
interior is completely free of both leather and chrome, with seats
upholstered in a knitted fabric. The completely mono-material design
for the seat coverings means they are fully recyclable, including the
piping, allowing material circularity to be maintained. The floor mats
are made from recycled rubber. Their terrazzo-like pattern is a
by-product of the recycling and manufacturing process and positively
showcases the multi-coloured constituent elements enjoying a second
life as part of this material.

The dashboard topper pad, door shoulders and parcel shelf also
display a highly simplified geometry and are made from recycled cork.
The type of cork used here doesn’t contain any synthetic binding
agents and is also fully recyclable. With its pleasing firmness
combined with a soft feel, cork could provide a substitute for foamed
plastics in future. Due to cork’s recyclability and its status as a
renewable raw material that actually “fixes” carbon dioxide during its
production, there is potential here for reducing greenhouse gases.
Another positive side effect of knitted fabric and cork is that they
are both open-pore materials that enhance interior acoustics.

Minimalist and functional – the details.
steering wheel, which is also a focal point of the interior, has been
reduced to the most essential functions. Its rim has been wrapped in
handlebar tape in true road bike style. Three aluminium spokes connect
the rim to the steering wheel’s impact absorber, whose mesh covering
makes it possible to see the airbag behind. As on the outside of the
car, there are visible screws here showing how easy it would be to
dismantle the steering wheel at a later date and reuse the aluminium.
A small fabric Paul Smith label in the one o’clock position is one of
the pointers to the collaboration that can be found in the interior.

The door panels are made from the same mesh material that covers the
airbag. The door structure can be clearly seen behind the mesh panels,
which are held within a frame. The transparency of the knitted mesh
changes according on the angle of view, adding a further dimension to
the interior’s appearance. The pull handles in the door shoulders are
made from wound climbing rope and, together with the matching seat
belts, liven up the interior with their bright orange finish. Like the
pull handles, the door openers in milled aluminium are housed in the
cork door shoulders and provide a high-class finishing touch for the
door area. As the eye wanders further up the door, it arrives at the
exposed airbag unit in the roof pillar. This has the same effect as
the visible cable routing in the interior, deliberately drawing
attention to functions that are normally concealed during manufacture
and employing them to aesthetically agreeable effect.

Sparking ideas for a more sustainable
Form follows function in all the ingenious
details incorporated into the MINI STRIP. Simplicity, transparency and
sustainability formed the central themes of the design process and
shine through in every aspect of the car. This has enabled the MINI
STRIP to translate MINI’s Creative Use of Space philosophy into a
radical and fundamental redesign of a MINI – especially in the
interior. As such, it can provide a catalyst for more sustainable use
of resources in automotive design.