A Retrospective Look at the 2010 Ford Taurus. Have You Driven an Art Museum Lately?
Can you drive an art museum? Fourteen years ago, Ford Motor Company thought so. Its CEO Alan Mulally and marketing chief Jim Farley made bold moves when they introduced new duds for its venerable nameplate: the fresh 2010 Taurus.
There is more to this story than hotshot executives retooling a brand’s image. Barbara Whalen, design manager for Ford, said the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion was the aesthetic inspiration for the flashier Ford. “The Calatrava” she boasted, “was the new Taurus’ aesthetic genesis.” A kiosk at the Chicago plant where Ford built this car compared the vehicle to the pavilion.
“There’s a perception that Europeans appreciate great design but Americans don’t,” said Lon Zaback Ford’s interior design manager, “but Milwaukee’s role in erecting a must-see building is powerful evidence to the contrary.” Zaback claimed, “the Calatrava’s irresistible rhythm, form and structure,” helped him design a flowing “sedan envy” cabin, a Ford marketing imperative. Where curators place sculptures, he envisioned a mobile mini-gallery.
Zaback echoed the museum’s arched, skeletal Schoeder Galleria’s corridor in door card recesses and then punctuated them with boomerang handles. He repeated another architectural motif, the approach to its brise soleil on the car’s forward-sweeping center console–canted at a 38-degree angle that engineers deemed “impossible;” the CD player won’t work. This console melds into the Calatrava’s wing-like form at the symmetrical dashboard’s visors.
This new interior departed from the practical 2009 Taurus’ chunky, Lego block-like insides. Formerly, “door panels looked like aircraft-carrier decks,” Whalen noted, “now, they are elbow-friendly alcoves.”
Beauty was more than skin deep. Zaback claimed the narrative behind Milwaukee’s Calatrava made it a compelling prototype; it spoke to a “community’s optimistic aspirations and its transformation.”
Earl Lucas, Ford’s exterior designer, said the museum “contradicts the perception that Milwaukee is simply a practical place.” According to Lucas, Beer Town’s architectural triumph has a nautical motif, which he employed in the “look at me” sedan’s “expressive boat-tail.”
Former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel architectural critic Whitney Gould compared the Calatrava to the 2010 Taurus. Each explored plasticity with materials that began as liquids, she mused: Calatrava with concrete, Zaback with polyurethane spray-on door upholstery. She thought the Calatrava homage was most evident in the door cards, which definitely took a cue from the boomerang arches. The similarities were less obvious on the exterior. Nonetheless, she claimed the 2010 Taurus was “zippier than the old stogy Taurus.”
“It’s inevitable that others would take a cue from Calatrava’s museum,” argued Gould. Then she cautioned, “there is a fine line between homage and gimmickry. Ford’s designers walked right up to the edge of that line.” No. They drove.