Viewed from a distance it seems simple: that car has to be a Porsche. But why is it that a Porsche has something so characteristic and clearly identifiable from every angle? Details are what influence the design phenomenon of how we perceive a Porsche.

911 GT3 with Touring package: Fuel consumption combined 13.3 l/100 km; CO2 emissions 302 g/km

Walter Gropius opened the Ulm School of Design on 2 October, 1955. At the ceremony, the former director of the Bauhaus School based in Weimar and Dessau and grand seigneur of the International Style of modern architecture addressed his words primarily to the students and instructors in the audience. He virtually implored them not to base their designs solely on reason, but also to take “the magical”, as he put it, into account.

For this Gropius received only polite applause. But he was articulating a key point that even Ulm’s rationalists could not ignore. Which parts of design can be expressly developed with the instruments of reason, and which parts are not amenable to this approach? Or in other words, which qualities of design can be strictly measured, and which ones resist objectifiable determination?

Pairs of apparently contradictory elements that can supposedly only be united at the cost of an unsatisfactory compromise are what characterise the design of a Porsche. Furrows and flat surfaces, curves and corners, aggression and graciousness, strength and elegance, speed and solidity, focused concentration and casual playfulness. The design succeeds emphatically not by plugging these factors into a simple mathematical equation such that they cancel each other out. Instead, it gains its profile by maintaining the respective elements in a precisely calibrated balance. At times sober engineering predominates, and at other times emotional attraction wins out.

The design of a Porsche car is based on values, not on algorithms. From up close or from unexpected angles, and facilitated by a stance of studious observation, details emerge that produce harmonious forms each time in their totality. With reference to motor racing, these include the uncompromising precision of the technical elements required for superior performance. Or the mutual play of curves, lines and reflections of light that break up the surfaces of the headlights. Or the self-assurance of extensive open spaces that vanish softly into the seams.

We lack the exact terms to articulate the effects of these forms of appearance. Gropius called it “the magical” – and he wanted that to be understood without a trace of sentimentality.

Photography: Haw-Lin Services

Cayenne S: Fuel consumption combined 9.4 – 9.2 l/100 km; CO2 emissions 213 – 209 g/km