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By Jim Motavalli
Thu, Aug 17, 2023 12:13pmGrey Clock 3 min

There are many advantages to unveiling high-end cars this week at Pebble Beach this week, where the average attendee will find the vehicles well within their means. And so it is with the venerable Italian coachbuilder-turned-automaker Pininfarina, founded by Battista “Pinin” Farina in 1930.

The PURA Vision design concept to be shown at Pebble was developed in-house at Pininfarina. Most onlookers would call it an SUV, or at least SUV-adjacent, but Pininfarina calls it a Luxury Utility Vehicle (e-LUV). The first design element to capture the eye is the glass dome that sees the door glass and windshield flowing uninterrupted into the roof. The side glass opens up in gullwing fashion but the doors stay put and open in “suicide” fashion, with the rear doors rear hinged to allow easy access to the back seat.

The PURA Vision looks like no other car, or at least no recent one. It sits high on huge 23-inch wheels, with slab sides and a low and aerodynamic “pillbox” upper body that recalls some chopped 1950s customs. And a 1950s design was an inspiration, the Lancia Florida I and II concepts of 1955 and 1957 respectively. The Florida I sedan also had suicide doors and no vertical roof support structure between the doors, known as a “B” pillar. Another inspiration, the gorgeous Pininfarina-designed 1953 Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 Superflow concept, had a similar glass dome roof and a futuristic look. There are very slim horizontal LED lights at the back that extend into the curved rear hatch. The interior is relatively simple, with controls on a console-mounted tablet.

Pininfarina’s Battista Edizione Nino Farina is a tribute to the founder’s race-winning nephew. Pininfarina photo

Dan Connell, the chief brand officer for Pininfarina, describes the car as “beautiful, but in an unexpected form.”

Currently, Pininfarina offers the Batista, a US$2.2 million electric supercar based on the ultra-fast Rimac Nevera, and in the process of developing the PURA Vision, the company “kept the Battista owners and other admirers of the brand close,” Connell says. “We had a private showing for them, and some were skeptical—but their minds were blown by what they saw.”

The company’s second production vehicle, code-named B95, is the first Pininfarina to reflect the PURA Vision design philosophy, Connell says. Details will be revealed during B95’s formal debut at the Quail: A Motorsports on Saturday. It’s sure to be a very exclusive car with a big price tag.

Pininfarina will also have the Battista Edizione Nino Farina on its stand at Pebble. First shown at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England last July, it’s a special edition of the Battista presented as a tribute to the first Formula One World Champion, Nino Farina, who was Battista Farina’s nephew. Setting it apart are unique paint colors, special gold wheels, and body side graphics. An aluminium door plate celebrates the younger Farina’s racing wins. Only five of the high-end electric cars will be built. It’s the second limited-edition Battista, after the Anniversario model.

Simplicity is the watchword in the PURA Vision’s interior. Pininfarina photo

Pebble Beach is always a parade of new model reveals. The “House of Maserati” is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the GranTurismo (GT) model. Both the electric Folgore GT and the Trofeo versions, powered by a three-litre twin-turbo Nettuno V6, are to be sold in the U.S. Two one-of-a-kind GTs, the Luce and Prisma, will be on display at the Quail. Also seen will be the MC20-based Maserati MCXtrema, with 730 horsepower and a build of just 62 cars. Lotus will be giving rides in the 2024 Emira sports car, the final gas-powered Lotus with both four-cylinder and V6 power. Prices start at US$77,100. Rolls-Royce will show a one-of-a-kind car created for a customer.

Other cars to be shown at Pebble include: the Acura ZDX electric crossover, a “world-first new model” from Aston Martin, the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport Golden Era, the Hennessey Venom Revolution Roadster (with a 17-pound removable carbon fiber hardtop), the world premiere of the new Mercedes-AMG GT, the second Lamborghini electric concept, and the Infiniti QX Monograph Concept.


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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”