The UK has long been associated with iconic designs across all spheres of transport, from The Flying Scotsman to the Pendolino, the Cutty Sark to the Queen Mary 2, the Spitfire to Concorde and the Mini to the Range Rover. Within the field automotive design, Coventry has been a ‘special place’; what Enzo Ferrari once described as ‘The most beautiful car ever made’ , the E-Type Jaguar, was designed and built in Coventry, and many more famous car designs have emerged from this city.
Since offering its first transport design courses more than 40 years ago Coventry University has educated some of the world’s most notable designers, and has been consistently rated amongst the world’s best transport design schools. But we cannot stand still. In its recent report, The Value of Design in the UK Automotive Sector, the Automotive Council recognised that design remains a strong competitive advantage for the UK.
According to Dr Graham Hoare, chair of the Automotive Council Technology Group: ‘There are few man made creations more emotive and inspiring that the automobile. The challenge of creating beauty and function for cars lies at the feet of world class designers and modellers – and the UK is synonymous with these people, processes and vision’. However, as with many other professions, we could face problems in the future if we do not address an increasing skills gap.
The National Transport Design Centre, funded initially through a £7 million Local Growth Deal contribution from the Coventry & Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, has been conceived to help address the future needs of design in the transport industry, including the rail, aerospace, marine and, of course, automotive sectors.
The 1800m2 facility will be based around a large design studio, equipped with state of the art technology for articulating design in both physical and virtual form, and will include a 15m clay milling facility, a 6m wide 3D immersive virtual reality power wall and a 3D Projection Mapping system, as well as a multitude of other modelling technologies.
We believe it is important that, as a university, we should be constantly testing the accepted norms and offering disruptive, yet plausible solutions to the challenges of transport design in the future. Supporting that, NTDC will run an extensive research portfolio, looking both at the inputs which will drive transport design, such as autonomous vehicles, ownership models and inter-modality, and the technologies which will express and articulate those design in the physical and virtual worlds. Our research will inform our teaching, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, with new courses and methods of teaching being developed to ensure we retain our position amongst the world’s best design schools. Finally, and importantly, NTDC will act as a focal point for engaging companies in the UK supply base, helping them, through access to both facilities and expertise, to utilise design more effectively as a source of future competitive advantage.
The construction programme has started, and we intend to be ‘open for business’ by April 2017. I’m delighted to say that since making the announcement just a few weeks ago, the interest that we have had from industry has been tremendous, confirming that we are doing this at the right time. Over the coming months we’ll be keeping everyone informed about progress, and sharing our thoughts about some of the issues around design which we believe are crucial, so ‘watch this space’, as they say. In the meantime, if anyone wants to find out more about what we are doing, I’d be delighted to hear from you.