Grand design

Grand design

From houses to cars and fashion to trucks, the world around us is designed to be both aesthetically pleasing and practical. And humans were designed to be strange.

It never ceases to amaze me how strange humans actually are when you really think about it. We are the only species on this earth that makes life more difficult for itself than nature intended, perhaps due to our “superior” intelligence (often questionable) and consequent compulsion to strive for greatness.

Most other animals spend their days lying in the sun, if not mincing about gathering food or hunting to survive (or, in the case of the hunted, running to survive), building little nests or dens to live and raise their young in, and generally moving with the seasons.

Humans? Not content with basic survival, we’ve come to put ourselves to work chasing big profits and a grand lifestyle. At least we try to make things a little easier for ourselves. Think about everything you come into contact with: most things properly designed by humans have a mix of style, functionality and practicality.

Some family of mine recently visited from Canada and America, one of whom had never been to South Africa before. It was interesting to hear her comments on a few things: she described our old family home in an old Joburg suburb as “quaint” and said American malls are not designed nearly as nicely as ours.

She also mentioned that local trucks look nothing like “ours back home”. A perfect case of differing approaches to design.

Obviously she was referring to the boldly designed American brands – like Mack, Peterbilt, Kenworth and Western Star – with their conventional cab, long-nose architecture. Sure, we get some of those here, but as with so much else, we tend to lean more towards European style, and, in this case, cab-over designs.

Of course, this is all influenced by differing laws pertaining to aspects of overall length, manoeuvrability and such. I know all trucks exist to do the same basic thing, and that good looks aren’t the foremost consideration in our industry, but I have to be honest: I always thought the Yanks had the Europeans (and Eastern manufacturers, mind you) licked when it came to truck aesthetics. By virtue of their bold brutish bonnets, sky-high chimney-like exhausts, long wheelbases, acres of chrome and overall sense of theatre, they make most of the cab-overs we’re used to seeing seem a touch dour and boring by comparison. Very American.

This is more than can be said for most of their car designs, which are very American too. European car design by comparison is mostly sleek, suave and sexy. And although it’s taken a while, many Euro-truck manufacturers have applied this philosophy to their latest-generation vehicles.

A perfect case in point is Mercedes-Benz’s new-generation Actros (not available in SA), which has been awarded the 2012 red dot design award over 4 500 other entries. The Actros won because of its “durable and functional design idiom that (will) continue to look appealing and modern for years to come. The new Actros balances function with perfect exterior form”. In layman’s terms, it’s the sexiest-ever thing on wheels designed to move big, heavy stuff. I’ve been lucky enough to see MBSA’s test unit in the flesh, and it really is.

One day, I will part with some of my hard-earned cash to park one in my garage for no other reason than that. Then again, there are certain Peterbilts I’ve made similar noises about. I know that makes absolutely no logical sense, but these completely different approaches to design are beyond aesthetically pleasing, and that’s all I care about.

Like I said, humans are strange!

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