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„Roots and Wings“ is the name of an opulent volume about the automobile designer Peter Schreyer, who, after designing the TT and A2 for Audi, the New Beetle and Golf IV for VW, led the Korean brands Kia and Hyundai to international success through design.

A review by Thomas Wagner

Peter Schreyer is a car designer with a passion. For more than 25 years, he worked in various positions for Audi and the Volkswagen Group. With a sense of the unusual and a preference for symmetrical front and rear ends, he designed the New Beetle and the first Audi TT. His Golf IV, balanced in proportion and detail, has long been a classic, just the way you would imagine a convincing compact with nothing to complain about. His Audi A2 was so far ahead of its time, not only because of the aluminium it was made of, that it had no chance on the market. In 2006, Schreyer then ventured to Korea, to the carmaker Kia. “For me,” he said at the time, putting his path to the East into an unusually poetic image, “the job at Kia is like an invitation to drive over white snow and leave traces”.

Peter Schreyer
Peter Schreyer, Photo: Matthias Ziegler ℅ Soothing Shade, Roots and Wings, gestalten 2021

How deep and how visible the traces have become that Schreyer has drawn in the snow with many wheels, not only as chief designer – first for Kia, later for the entire Hyundai Kia Automotive Group – can be studied in the opulent volume “Roots and Wings. Peter Schreyer: Designer, Artist, and Visionary”, which the Hyundai Group dedicated to him as a first step towards retirement. In the meantime, the Belgian Luc Donckerwolke has taken over the operational management; Schreyer, 69, retired as president and CEO in spring, but remains closely connected to the car giant as a leading design consultant and brand ambassador. Incidentally, the title “Roots and Wings” alludes to the fact that Schreyer managed to start into the future inspired by being rooted in a tradition, i.e. to combine the German design tradition with Korean culture in a beneficial way and to contribute significantly to the international success of both Korean brands. Not only has he made design a central element of corporate development; he has increased its influence on strategic decisions and fundamentally changed the image of the brands. Whereas before him the models were considered staid and old-fashioned, today they appear elegant, independent and contemporary. All the way to the newly added Genesis brand.

On 336 richly and concisely illustrated pages, the book describes how Schreyer became enthusiastic about design from childhood and describes his development in many facets – from his studies at the Royal College of Art, his first experiences at Audi and then at Volkswagen’s Californian design studio to the head of exterior design at VW, his return to Audi and his leap to Korea. His love of art is not neglected either. We learn that Dadaism and Bauhaus, artists like Dalì, De Chirico and Twombly, musicians like Miles Davis and Frank Zappa, designers like the Eames, Jasper Morrison and Thomas Heartherwick inspired him.

And so Peter Schreyer’s career gives an idea of how much the profession of car designer has changed over the past decades, not least because of the enormous pressure of international competition. What once began under the name of “body tailor” in small companies as haute couture of noble individual pieces or with the beginning mass market with prêt-a-porter designs has today become a challenging job in globally operating corporations. The task is correspondingly complex. For a long time now, it has not only been about the successful combination of the latest technology with aesthetics, exterior and interior design, but also about positioning in the market and the international profile of the brand. Not to mention the responsibility that is associated with the success or failure of the introduction of new models, simply because of the high investments involved.

Peter Schreyer
Schreyer has advantageously combined the German design tradition with Korean culture and contributed significantly to the international success of Korean brands, photo:Studio Amos Fricke, Roots and Wings, © gestalten 2021

Here in particular, Peter Schreyer has achieved extraordinary things for Kia and Hyundai. In many parts of the opulent volume, which is divided into the three sections “The Explorer”, “Bavaria-Korea” and “The Designer”, his ability to pay full attention to even the smallest detail of a design or concept car can be seen, but never to lose sight of the whole, of how a design not only fits into the model range and the design language of the brand, but also develops it further. The best example of this is the elegantly designed Kia Stinger, a premium coupé aimed at Audi and BMW customers.

Peter Schreyer Roots and Wings

Roots and Wings

Peter Schreyer: Designer, Artist, and Visionary

336 p., hardback, English text,

Gestalten Publishing House

ISBN: 978-3-96704-033-3

50,00 Euros

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