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The Ferrari of bus shelters: Miami Beach stops get makeover from Italian car gods

Pininfarina, the Italian firm best known for designing Ferraris, was selected to design new bus shelters for Miami Beach. They’re Miami design office has now been open for five years.
Pininfarina, the Italian firm best known for designing Ferraris, was selected to design new bus shelters for Miami Beach. They’re Miami design office has now been open for five years. Pininfarina

A bus shelter may not seem like it’s worthy of world-class Italian design.

But Miami Beach is no ordinary city. In a bid to make a fitting impression, city officials have chosen Pininfarina, the firm best known for designing some of the most beautiful cars ever made, to create waiting areas worthy of the beach’s penchant for flair.

“Miami Beach leads the way in design and style,” Commissioner Ricky Arriola said in a release. “As a city, we strive to build beautiful, affordable and practical Public Works projects for our residents and visitors to both use and admire.”

As it turns out, the Beach didn’t have to look far to find the right firm for the job. In July, Pininfarina celebrated its fifth anniversary in Miami, its U.S. headquarters. It’s another example of an internationally renowned firm establishing a Magic City beachhead to serve the Americas.

“Miami is the door for the US and the door for America,” chairman Paolo Pininfarina told the Miami Herald. “For a company like ours that has a heritage of Italian design, and professional design, emotional design, it’s best place to start the promoting of Italian design.”

“In other places in the US you have to explain more,” he added. “Here it’s natural.”

Pininfarina’s history is the stuff of legend. Patriarch Battista ”Pinin” Farina, born in 1893, took an interest in the nascent automobile sector and won a design contest at FIAT, the car maker based in his hometown of Turin. The association eventually transformed the city into the “Detroit of Italy.”

A fateful 1951 meeting with racing superstar Enzo Ferrari would cement Pinin’s company as the world leader in Italian auto design. “At a certain point, it was clear that one of us was looking for a beautiful, famous woman to dress and the other a world-class couturier to deck her out,” Pinin wrote in his autobiography. To date, the company has designed approximately 200 Ferrari models. (A Pininfarina-designed 2015 Ferrari is currently listed on Sotheby’s for about $3 million.) A government decree allowed Pinin to permanently change his family name to Pininfarina, and today the company is chaired by Pinin’s grandson, Paolo.

In 2015, Indian conglomerate Mahindra purchased a majority stake in Pininfarina for just one-quarter of its market value. Reuters reported that Pininfarina had experienced years of losses as more car companies brought design duties in-house.

The restructuring seems to have paid off.

“Pininfarina has been very busy ever since,” Road and Track reported in April. “And while design and consulting remains a huge part of their wide portfolio...the famous name is back in the full-scale car production business as well.”

Pininfarina’s Florida ties date back to the 1950s, when Pinin designed a car named, well, The Florida. According to both AutoClassics.com and CurbsideClassic.com, its sleek design helped permanently shift the auto industry away from accepted boxier designs. A concept car called the Palm Beach soon followed.

The company did not open an office in the U.S. until the mid-2000s, when the group set up a Broward outpost to design phones for Motorola and planes for Aero Toy Store, now known as SmartJets.

The company regrouped, and in 2012 opened an office in Brickell. Today, it employs about a dozen workers there, with a focus on architecture, interior design, and networking hardware for Cisco Systems. The company plans to open a second U.S. office in California.

Pininfarina’s imprint can be found in multiple South Florida locations, including the lobby and lounge of the 1100 Millecento condo building in Brickell. Automotive aficionados may want to stop in at Midtown’s Curated, which counts several Pininfarina-designed Ferraris in its vintage offerings.

0028 Paolo Pininfarina design 071718
Chairman Paolo Pininfarina of the Pininfarina design company sits in a 1973 GTS Dino designed by the company. Pininfarina’s U.S. headquarters is in Miami, and celebrated their 5-year anniversary on Tuesday, July 17, 2018. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

For the Miami Beach bus shelters, the company tried to capture design elements that would show off “the yesterday, today, and tomorrow” of Miami Beach., says Paolo Trevisan, design chief at Pininfarina of America.

“The look is very natural — a mix of natural and technologic,” he said. “[The support columns] look like the trunk of a palm, but at the same time, it’s very controlled. We’re taking care of every little detail, what we have designed is not just a product but an entire system.”

The shelters will come with solar panels to power lights and an arrival-time display. Sun will glow through colored roof panels, bathing the shelter floors in kaleidoscopic patterns. Cost of the project is $504,251; the city expects advertising revenue to eventually cover that figure. Fort Lauderdale-based Acai Associates was hired as architect; it tapped Pininfarina as designer. City planners are still discussing how many shelters will be needed, and in what sizes; there could be as many as 300. Construction is set to begin next year.

In July, Pininfarina drew international attention after it unveiled a hydrogen-powered sports car; this week it unveiled its “hypercar” that goes from 0-60 in under two seconds and can run for 300 miles on a single charge.

“The future is zero emission,” Paolo Pininfarina said. “We want to be there. We are not afraid of this innovation.”

Paolo Pininfarina says the U.S., and especially Florida, continues to show strong demand for luxury and new-wave automobiles.

“The market for supercars is the U.S.,” he said. “You need to be street legal — you can sell in the Middle East...Russia...but the real market is here.”

But he says his company is able to hold true to its unparalleled design process in all genres, from packaging to luxury goods. As proof, the firm points to the futuristic-looking, 146-flavor-dispensing Coca-Cola vending machine, which can now be found at Burger King, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and Five Guys restaurants.

Meanwhile, Miami itself remains a growth market. He envisions creating a Pininfarina-designed tower or hotel here in the near future.

“For me it’s just the beginning,” Pininfarina said. “There’s still a lot of things we can do, a lot of potential.”

This post has been updated with additinoal information on the cost of the bus shelter project.

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