A concert grand piano is impressively large, usually black and has three legs to support the body with its typically curved sides. For more than 100 years, the complex internal mechanisms of these instruments have ensured their magnificent sound as well as determining the overall shape. The long tradition that has led to the grand piano has included many baroque versions that are not ideally matched to Audi’s design language. Despite this, the Audi Design Studio team in Munich decided to tackle the task of housing a concert grand piano in an Audi “outer skin”.
The question was: where to start? How could Audi’s design philosophy be interpreted for a grand piano – an instrument with a closely defined form and function? An active process began, during which the designers came up with a surprising number of design approaches. In due course it fell to pianoforte manufacturer Bösendorfer to build the first “Audi Design grand piano”. At a price of approximately 100,000 euros, the Vienna-based company will be including this design icon in its high-quality catalogue of instruments from July 16 onwards – the day of its world premiere.
“You can imagine the respect with which we approached the challenge of redesigning a musical instrument” says Wolfgang Egger, Head of Audi Group Design. But he and his team made a virtue out of necessity: “The limitations we faced were necessary as a means of stimulating our creativity. We were obliged to study the instrument in depth, and develop an all-embracing concept from the very start. The project was a useful source of experience for our young designers, and will benefit them later when they work on car design.”
The team from Design naturally cooperated closely with the specialists at Bösendorfer, since Audi itself is clearly not in a position to build grand pianos. Bösendorfer, on the other hand, has stood for excellent quality and correspondingly good acoustics since 1828. For Audi, the top priority was not to exert any adverse influence on the instrument’s sound. In the piano workshops in Vienna, the highest standards in both materials and workmanship apply. These enormously complex articles, with very delicate mechanical elements, call for precision craft skills, with tolerances down to one five-hundredth of a millimetre. The strings, from treble to bass, can exert a tension of as much as 20 tons on the cast metal frame inside the soundbox. The vibration frequencies and sound quality have to be precisely correct; there is no room for compromises.
In the end, the Audi designers walked this tightrope with success. Although various elements directly associated with the case of the piano were modified, the acoustics were unaffected. But the Audi Design grand piano is certainly “different”, even at first glance. “Generous surface areas ensure formal clarity; there are no decorative applications, the edges and lines are sharply drawn, the joints logically positioned. All these are important aspects of the Audi design,” says Designer Philip Schlesinger, who implemented the project at the Concept Design Studio in Munich. One of the most striking features is the lid, which extends without a break down to the base – an Audi innovation that yields a large, one-piece surface.
From above, the lid is seen to be recessed into the main case. In the side view, the elegant curve of the treble side is not interrupted by a joint line. The underside of the case is allowed to rise moderately at the rear, away from the performer. This is an optical device: “It draws the observer’s attention subtly to the pianist,” Schlesinger explains. To reduce the sense of weight on the treble side, a slim aluminium-look leg is used. The same simple style with its hint of the technical world is applied to the pedal lyre.
The keyboard has no wings at the ends. In the same spirit of purist design, the designers have concealed the hinges in the lid above the keyboard. The lid itself can be opened at an unobtrusively integrated handle. Another Audi idea is to be found directly beneath the keyboard – one that does away with the risk of bruised or scratched knees: “The lower front edge of the keyboard housing and the beam used to make it more rigid have been rounded off. This new outline is distinctly better from an ergonomic point of view: it protects the pianist’s knees,” says Schlesinger.
When the main lid has been raised and secured with the two-position metal prop, the interior catches the eye immediately. Whereas the classic piano black finish predominates on the outside, the designers have chosen typical Audi colours for the interior. The cast frame is in grey instead of the usual bronze colour, and the felt damper strips in natural white instead of wine red. The Audi Design signet has been greatly reduced in emphasis to harmonise with the instrument’s overall appearance: it appears on the right front edge of the keyboard lid as a precisely formed, polished stainless steel inlay. As on all pianos from this Vienna manufacturer, the Bösendorfer name is displayed above the centre of the keyboard.
The decision to design an Audi concert grand piano is a logical consequence of many years of cultural involvement by the brand with the four-ring emblem. This includes the high-quality jazz meetings at the Audi Forum in Ingolstadt where the Audi Design grand piano will in future be seen and heard.
The Audi Design grand piano will have its world premiere at a major ceremony held on July 16, 2009 in the Audi Forum Ingolstadt to celebrate Audi’s centenary. The new instrument can be ordered via the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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