If seeing the latest cars is your bag, there’s no better place to do that than the North American International Auto Show. But the NAIAS is also a chance to get a glimpse of the newest car designers, as Detroit’s College for Creative Studies uses the event to showcase the work of its latest crop of transportation design students.
“CCS is a part of what makes Detroit special, in addition to the automakers themselves and many of them being based here,” says Brian Baker, adjunct professor in the transportation design program at CCS. “Detroit and auto design seem to go hand in hand.”
Though Detroit has hosted an auto show since 1907, it was rebranded as an international show 25 years ago. CCS became a part of the show shortly after, and has maintained a presence ever since. “It’s a chance for us to showcase what kind of creativity comes out of the city of Detroit and why students travel [here] from all over the world,” Baker says. “It’s the most international school in town, no question.”
The student projects range from cars that wouldn’t look out of place on the road today to more futuristic-looking concepts that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi film. They may differ in technique, but all demonstrate a keen eye for aesthetics and form.
A back wall features renderings of concept cars — from drawings to digital paintings to 3-D renderings, and glass display cases house miniature painted clay models of cars. The projects represent student work of all levels, created in collaboration with sponsored projects with companies like General Motors, Chrysler, Honda, Indian and others.
“The idea is that the students are exposed to potential employers all through their time in the school,” Baker says. “A good percentage of our students start their careers with the automakers as interns. They’re with professional design studios in Detroit, Europe and Japan.”
“Nearly half of the world’s automobile designers are graduates of the College for Creative Studies,” he points out. “[NAIAS] is like a homecoming for us.” In fact, in advance of the show’s opening, the college held a reception for all CCS alumni in town for the show. The work on display at the NAIAS is a small sample of a larger exhibit currently on display on the school’s campus.
Baker himself attended CCS back in 1979 before going to Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design. After working at General Motors for 25 years, he started teaching at CCS full time in 2007, where he is currently an instructor for Freshman Transportation Design and The History of Modern Design. In addition to teaching college courses, Baker also teaches a pre-college course for high school students interested in automotive design.
“It’s a major recruiting tool for us,” he says of the auto show. “When people who are driving age look at the concept cars, they imagine themselves driving them. But when you’re a kid who’s 13 years old and you’re imagining what cars will look like when you’re able to drive [you realize] the miniatures were designed by kids that are just a few years older than you. That really resonates with high school kids and middle school kids.”