A Renaissance of Purity

The Volkswagen Group stands for pioneering design. In the Companys headquarters in Wolfsburg, Professor Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board, and Walter de Silva, Head of Group Design, discuss every single detail. Both are perfectionists. Sometimes they know what the other is thinking without speaking a single word.

In the Company's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Professor Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board, and Walter de Silva, Head of Group Design, discuss every single detail. (photo)
“Our design conveys timelessness and high quality – it can be recognized at the very first glance.” Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen AG (quotation)
Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board, and Walter de Silva, Head of Group Design (photo)

At first glance, it might well call to mind an army of silver service waiters streaming into a banquet hall. Trolleys are pushed in, laden with technical delicacies: an assortment of instruments and operating units and a wide choice of other parts from the interior of an automobile. This is followed by a selection of vehicles that take up positions around the hall. It is no accident that this particular hall, which is mirrored on one side, is known as “Valhalla” – this, after all, is the heart of the Volkswagen Design Center in Wolfsburg.

For Martin Winterkorn and Walter de Silva, visits to Valhalla are part of a normal working day. “When we start working on a new automobile, it’s a long way to the final product,” says Winterkorn, “so we have to review our work constantly during the design process.” This being the case, he spends many hours a month talking to de Silva’s team about the architecture and design of new models, looking closely at swage lines and edges in the body work, feeling the surfaces and exploring technical and economic limitations. Every now and then, the Chairman of the Board reaches for a measuring tape to gain a better idea of the proportions involved: “Anyone who has seen as many cars as I have can tell right away when something isn’t quite right.” “You shouldn’t keep anything from Dr. Winterkorn,” says de Silva, “he wants to know everything, really everything – even things that you’d prefer to keep to yourself.”


Finally, the two men make their way to a silver Audi A5 Sportback and a red Volkswagen Polo. Winterkorn taps on the front wheel cutout of each vehicle, peers into the wheelhouse before taking a step back for another critical inspection from a little further away. Then he turns and looks wordlessly at de Silva, who nods his comprehension. Evidently, a detail is being discussed without a single word being spoken. They are on the same wavelength.

The two men complement each other perfectly. Winterkorn, originally a materials researcher and quality expert, is used to taking a systematic, structured and analytical approach to his work. And he is never satisfied: “There’s always room for improvement.” De Silva is of the same mold: “Many people equate creativity with complete freedom, but it is actually discipline that is the basic prerequisite for creativity.”

Walter de Silva, Head of Group Design (photo)

When he started at Volkswagen, one of the first things he did was some fundamental research: “We conducted an in-depth analysis of the design heritage of Volkswagen and its brands.” This study yielded a vast and fascinating list of distinctive features. “Each brand has its own DNA that has evolved over time and its own typical design criteria,” explains the Chief Designer. With Volkswagen, for instance, it is the simple horizontal arrangement of the front section; with Audi, it is the upright radiator grille that took shape over the decades. “The central thread that unites everything is simplicity and elegance.” Hailing from Northern Italy, elegance runs in de Silva’s blood. The simplicity that he found at Volkswagen was a godsend for him.

“Purity, clarity and simplicity are all enjoying something of an esthetic renaissance.” Walter de Silva, Head of Group Design at Volkswagen (quotation)

In Italy, the term “simplicity” has very positive connotations. “If a man is ‘semplice’, he’s a man of honor,” explains de Silva, “honest, reliable and straightforward.” All characteristics that, in his view, also set the Volkswagen Beetle apart from its peers. Its unmistakably clear yet beautiful body line made it into a style icon. “Good design isn’t a question of price,” he sums up, “and a prime example of this is the new Volkswagen UP! from our New Small Family range.”

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