DNA is a precious commodity for Paolo Pininfarina. The three magical letters crop up again and again as Pininfarina talks of the design heritage, which threads its way through the Italian company that bears his name.

As the engineering and design group expands and grows, adding to its famous heartland in the automotive industry, Pininfarina is always careful to ensure that the values of the company carry through into all that it does. Pininfarina’s work now spans everything from Ferrari to Ferra, a new skyscraper in Singapore, where the company has designed both the exteriors and the interiors, drawing inspiration from a long and precious history of innovation and sophisticated, streamlined styling.

“Car design is the heart of what we do, so when we do other kinds of design work there is, in our DNA, the experience that we made in car design,” says Paolo Pininfarina, chairman of the Turin based group.

“The vision and mission of the company is about services, sustainability and brand development, but design is everywhere. Design is at the heart of the services that we provide—we call it engineering, but the engineering that we do is mainly vehicle architecture, so it’s design. Sustainability is about inventing new platforms, new concepts, new products and they are also made through design. And brand development could be new limited edition cars or new projects, but also with a strong design content. Without design, Pininfarina is nothing.”

The company has certainly come a long way since it was founded by Paolo Pininfarina’s grandfather, the legendary car designer Battista Pinin-Farina, back in 1930. The Cisitalia 202 of 1947, on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, was one of Battista Pinin-Farina’s most famous creations, along with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider. There were also a whole series of Ferraris from the early 1950s onwards, including the 250 GT of 1960, with Paolo’s father—Sergio Pininfarina—continuing the relationship across a long series of Ferrari designs. The ongoing relationship with Ferrari remains a crucial part of Pininfarina today, with Paolo Pininfarina intimately involved in the design of the recent Ferrari F12 Berlinetta.

“As a child I remember the rides in a Ferrari,” he says. “My father used to come with a new model and, on the day before Christmas one year, I remember a ride in the hills in the snow in a Ferrari 365GT, with myself and my brother in the back seat. My father said you can go fast or you can go slow… We would ride in these very understated Ferraris in metallic grey—never red. The relationship with Ferrari is not only important but fundamental. We have such a great partnership. Through the years my father worked on more than 100 models with Ferrari. Personally, I have worked on five so far.”

Paolo Pininfarina remembers his grandfather as a kind, gentle and generous man, although his father also told him that Battista Pinin-Farina had been a tough and severe parent to him. As a child Paolo Pininfarina would visit the factory at Cambiano, just outside Turin, and at motor shows his father would ask him to tour around with his brother and report back on what they had seen and which were the best cars.

As children there was a strong expectation that they would both be involved in the family firm; Paolo’s elder brother Andrea served as chief executive from 2001 and, later, also chairman until his death in a road accident in 2008.

Paolo Pininfarina joined the family company in 1982, after studying mechanical engineering, and worked closely with Cadillac, Honda and General Motors. Then, in 1987, he became head of a new division, Pininfarina Extra, which was created to broaden the company’s portfolio into other fields of design as well as car making and engineering.

“We wanted to explore the potential of Pininfarina and create an entity that could develop the brand and protect it from imitation,” says Paolo. “We started from zero and the road map was accessories first—sunglasses, watches, the kind of things that used the Pininfarina brand in the market place. At the same time we moved into product design and furniture, because from automotive design we had some skill in the development of the furniture and interiors of the car. Then the next step was interior design and that started about ten years ago. The challenge was to develop skills gradually while keeping the Pininfarina DNA. It was a long process of design and brand extension and always, in every project, there is a sort of cross over between tradition and innovation within the spirit of Pininfarina.”

From furniture and kitchen design, Pininfarina Extra launched into larger scale interiors projects with the creation of their own dedicated offices, which were treated as a laboratory for exploring new ideas.

This was followed by a large commission for the interior spaces at the Juventus Stadium, also near Turin, where the company designed restaurants, the main entrance area, sky boxes and hospitality spaces.

“It was very big and very popular,” says Pininfarina. “It’s an icon so to be able to say that we designed the interiors of the Juventus Stadium was very important. They wanted to be innovative, so we shared their values. It was very successful in every sense and in South America it was a project that was noticed, so we are now starting a new project in Brazil.”

Recent and current projects have an international range. There are the interiors of two residential projects in Florida—the 1,100 Millecento Residences in Miami and Beachwalk at Hallandale Beach—and the architecture and interiors of a new marina in Argentina. The team at Pininfarina Extra now includes architects as well as interior and product designers, with a number of new projects spanning architecture and interiors, including a private chapel in Riardo, Italy.

One of Pininfarina Extra’s largest projects to date is the Ferra tower in Singapore—a new 22-storey residential tower just over 100m in height. As well as the interiors of both the apartments and public spaces, Pininfarina’s architects have designed a sleek, bold, curving exterior, complete with open sky terraces puncturing the building at levels two and 14. The sinuous shell of the skyscraper is defined by floor plates in red and black with glazing and balconies in between, all reminiscent of a sleek radiator grill or air intake on a sports car.

“Ferra is really the first time that we have given personality to the façade of a building,” says Paolo. “It’s a strong personality that certainly refers to automotive design and not only with the exterior but also the interiors. Inspiration comes not only from the aerodynamic, fluid shapes but also from ideas that have a heritage in the interior design of automobile projects. The influence is not always direct.”

Despite the range and international scope of the projects, they are all—in a sense—made in Italy, born and developed on the drawing boards of Cambiano. And the connections to Pininfarina’s roots in car making stay constant, whatever the projects may be. Within the car business, which still makes up the bulk of the company’s turnover, recent launches include the BMW Gran Lusso and the Cambiano hybrid concept car. Pininfarina continues to explore new markets and new partnerships within the car industry, seeking to replace some of the old relationships that fell away after the economical turmoil of 2008.

For Pininfarina Extra, Paolo Pininfarina’s greatest dream is for other towers and vertical villages. One day he hopes that they may even get a chance to build a tower in Italy, despite the famous Italian opposition to skyscrapers. “I’m a lover of vertical buildings,” he says. “There is now a whole technology of architecture and engineering to make these buildings sustainable and to gather many people in one place with easy communication between them. If cities are not vertical then they will become like Calcutta, more or less.

“So I would like to be part of this process; this kind of projection towards the sky is an ambition for Pininfarina. But in Italy there’s a saying that nobody is a prophet in their own country. So maybe one day it will be easier to find a Pininfarina skyscraper in São Paulo or maybe London. Perhaps Italy will come later. For me it’s the projection of the city towards the future.”

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Images © Pininfarina