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Norman Foster's futuristic concept car

  • A futuristic car from 1933 has been remade by architect Norman Foster
  • The Dymaxion featured a periscope and was 20 feet long
  • It was originally designed by maverick American modernist Buckminster Fuller
  • Architects and designers including Zaha Hadid and Marc Newson have also designed concept cars

London, England (CNN) -- Architect Norman Foster has turned his hand to car design, remaking a zeppelin-shaped car from the past that looks straight out of the future.

The green Dymaxion is six meters-long, three-wheeled, and can fit 11 people. The car's more curious features include a periscope instead of a rear-view mirror and steering via the single back wheel, allowing drivers to do a U-turn along the length of the car.

Foster's idiosyncratic design is, in fact, a faithful recreation. The Dymaxion was originally designed and built in 1933 by maverick American thinker, architect and engineer Richard Buckminster Fuller -- best known for his patented geodesic domes.

Buckminster Fuller hoped that one day his concept car of the future would fly jump-jet style, but an accident at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933 meant it was never put into commercial production.

It doesn't currently look like Foster's Dymaxion will go into production either, but not because it doesn't give a good ride.

"Driving the Dymaxion is revelatory," Foster said in a press statement to CNN. "At slow speed, it can turn on itself, almost like a spinning top. Moving faster, it is extraordinarily well cushioned and feels more like a boat than a car."

Foster, the architectural brains behind London's Gherkin building and the restoration of Berlin's Reichstag, worked with Buckminster Fuller for the last twelve years of his life. He has prior experience of designing motor vehicles too.

In 2009, his firm Foster + Partners won first prize in the redesign competition for the red double-decker Routemaster buses in London, with a design drawn up in partnership with classic British car makers Aston Martin.

Foster is one of several well-known architects dabbling in car design. British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid has come up with two car prototypes for a vehicle called the Z-car.

"The car concept was supposed to be an emission free vehicle powered by electricity -- a vision for the future," Jens Borstelmann, project architect for the Z-car told CNN.

You take a look at the Dymaxion compared with any 1934 car, and it's a pretty radical-looking machine
--Jay Hubbard, National Automobile Museum

Meanwhile Australian designer Marc Newson created the boxy 021c Concept Car for automobile giants Ford in 1999.

Less ambitious, perhaps, than Fuller's aeronautic Dymaxion, the 021c featured design innovations such as a trunk that extend out from the car and doors that open from the center.

It is rare, though, that such "concept" cars designed by architects and designers make it out of the gallery and onto the roads.

Jay Hubbard is the Automotive Collections Manager at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada in the U.S..

"It would have been a tough climb," Hubbard told CNN. "You take a look at the Dymaxion compared with any 1934 car, and it's a pretty radical-looking machine."

The museum owns the only remaining original Dymaxion car, the second ever built. It was found in the 1960s by an architecture student in Arizona who spotted it in his neighbor's yard, where it was being used as a lean-to.

The Dymaxion is one of the museum's most popular exhibits. But if it hadn't been implicated in the accident in 1933, could it have taken hold on our roads?

"There would have been people who liked it, and there still are, but the American buying public was and is very conservative," Hubbard said.

He also said that the car was difficult to navigate -- the single rear-wheel rudder steering required special lessons and Buckminster Fuller would not let anyone who didn't know how to operate the car drive it.

"I don't know how that would have worked in real life," Hubbard said, though he admitted that, with its relatively simple Ford engine, the Dymaxion's mechanics would have been easy to service.

Zaha Hadid Architects hope that the Z-car will make it out of prototype stage and eventually onto our city streets.

"We are still looking for someone to start to manufacture the car, someone with the right ideas," said Borstelmann.

Asked why it is that architects become interested in car design, he replied: "The car is an everyday object that almost every single one of us is using or at least seeing everyday, so it is part of our everyday landscape."

"We are always interested in streamlining form," he continued.

As for the Dymaxion, it remains to be seen whether it will make it out onto the roads as the world's most high-concept people carrier.

Utopian Fuller was, according to Hubbard, more interested in the process of designing than in the finished product.

In the end perhaps, all architect-designed cars, whether they make it out onto the roads or not, present an idea of how things might be, rather than where we are right now.


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