Behind the scenes at Audi's new design centre
One of a lucky few invited inside, Jack Healy reveals what lies behind the glimmering glass windows
Car design can either be something that intrigues you, or leaves you feeling completely cold.
It may matter to you, or it may not.
But the task undertaken to get your car from being just a simple idea on paper, to being parked in your driveway, is a long and sometimes thankless one, because how difficult is it really to get an artist's impression onto the road?
Very, as it turns out, and for designers to do their best work, they need the best environment. So, what German brand Audi needed to do was demolish the design centre it had used since the 1970s and replace it with a brand new block.
Why? It's all explained as I, along with a group of journalists, take a sneak peek behind the scenes (we're the first group invited into the private building). Basically, Audi needed more space as its range of vehicles is constantly growing. Thirteen base models doesn't sound like a lot, but with S and RS versions also being made, you can see why the designers needed a little more wiggle room.
The new T3 building at Audi's Ingolstadt site brings the company's new design language to the fore, by offering a professional and simple exterior that will stand the test of time, as the brand's design ethos becomes more finessed. The glass exterior has two layers, so that light can flood in, but curious eyes don't see the secrets inside - and there are quite a few these.
Even when on the tour, security guards were posed by certain doors around the building, so said secrets weren't revealed too soon. When entering the building, we're greeted by the Prologue and Prologue Avant concept models, giving us an idea of what the A7 would look like when it was revealed later that day. The Prologue models will also be inspiration for the upcoming A6 saloon.
With the central staircases crisscrossing the main atrium up to the top floor, which also has a glass roof to allow in even more light, the building has quite a simplified feel, with bare concrete walls, light cladding and dark floors with wood detailing, complementing the large glass windows.
When taken further up into the beating heart of the new block, we see the brand demonstrate its new super-computer-driven rendering system, which allows the designers to take their simplified and computer-assisted drawings, and turn them into fully-fledged vehicles on a large screen, so they can see what they need to change with the design. It is even able to place a vehicle in a certain place on the planet on any day and time of year to see what it looks like - impressive.
You may be thinking, then, that the whole design process would be undertaken on computers, without the need for a physical starting point. But thankfully, Audi still does all the original doodles and sketches on paper, and then scans them into the computer to edit and render from there, so the art of car design is far from over.
As we work our way upwards, the floors open up to allow even more space for the designers to work, and this is where we get the first glimpse of the new A7.
All in clay, the basic full-size design has been milled on one of the platforms, enabling the designers to further refine the design in the flesh, while also testing colours and contours and panels with foil.
Rigs for interior design and light setup are dotted around the floor space, with drawings and sketches on walls and desks too. The designers have access to premium materials and finishes so they can adequately offer the attitude they want in their vehicles - may that be luxury or sporty.
From all this, we can start to piece together what the new A7 looks like, before it was revealed that evening.
It's a great insight into how the designers work, and knowing very few visitors from outside the organisation will get to step foot inside the building - where, from now on, all Audis will come from - makes it all the more special.