By 1931, Villa Savoye – designed by Swiss-born architect and designer Le Corbusier – was complete. Located on the outskirts of Paris, the stilted structure featured a curved ground floor level, modelled on the turning circle of a car, which meant the owner could drive underneath the house, park and drive out the other side with one simple steering movement. More than just a nod to Le Corbusier’s interest in car design, the house is a shining, white-washed example of the automobile impacting architecture.
Less than 20 miles south of Villa Savoye, Laurens van den Acker – Renault Group’s vice president of design – is standing proudly by his latest creation, deep inside the design wing of the company’s Technocentre. The slick, copper-coloured concept is called the Symbioz – derived from sumbiōsis, the Ancient Greek word for ‘living together’. For Van den Acker, the Symbioz is his Villa Savoye for the 21st century – a fully-electric, autonomous and connected living space for the road that he believes we'll be driving (or being driven in) in the year 2030.
The Symbioz has been designed as a fully-electric, semi-autonomous and connected living space for the road. Photograpy: Nicolas Pivetal
Despite its futuristic appearance, the Symbioz bears all the hallmarks of a conventional car with four seats, the same number of wheels and a large, spacious cabin. But its purpose and function, Van den Acker insists, goes far beyond that of a traditional car. ‘No longer can we think of car design in isolation from the ecosystem surrounding us... we’re creating a vehicle that's part of one fluid ecosystem,’ he explains. Launched alongside a full-sized house at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the concept shows how cars can be integrated into our lives by becoming a part of the home – storing and providing power or as a mobile, modular living room, relaxation space or conservatory.
On the road, the Symbioz promises a Level 4 degree of autonomy – or ‘mind off driving’ as Renault Group’s autonomous driving chief engineer Laurent Taupin puts it – enabling the driver to switch off, sit back and enjoy the ride. With autonomous mode enabled, the driver can recline into a ‘zero gravity’ seating position or swivel round and face their fellow passengers, a layout popular with manufacturers keen to show off the full extent of their autonomous credentials.
Stemming from Renault’s brand mantra of ‘a passion for life’, the Symbioz car-cum-house concept may be more than just a glossy future-gazing exercise. ‘In our view, concept cars are a promise,’ says Van den Acker. Having been one of the first manufacturers to popularise electric cars with its ZE (zero emissions) range, Renault has a proven history of bringing new automotive technologies to the market. While consumers are unlikely to welcome their current cars into their homes anytime soon, the Symbioz – like Corbusier’s Villa Savoye – is an admirable attempt to bring two mainstays of modern life together in a handsome but practical package.