'Disruptors' Exhibition Showcases Futurist Design Vision, From Boots to Bikes

Petersen Auto Museum Main Split - Publicity - H 2019
Joey Ruiter; Courtesy United Nude

The work of designer Rem D. Koolhaas (whose shoes have been worn by Lady Gaga and 'Hunger Games' characters) and industrial designer Joey Ruiter are on display at Los Angeles' Petersen Automotive Museum.

Automotive designers often test boundaries. But Rem D. Koolhaas and Joey Ruiter have pushed creativity to new extremes, showcased in an exhibit of their work, "Disruptors," which just opened at the Petersen Automotive Museum and is set to run through March 15, 2020.

The Dutch-born Koolhaas (a noted shoe designer and namesake of his uncle, the renowned architect) and Ruiter (an award-winning American industrial designer who hails from Michigan) have been experimenting with vehicle designs so minimalist it’s difficult to distinguish some shapes as vehicles. There is a car resembling a partially cut diamond, a bicycle where the front and back tires almost touch, a skateboard with a transparent deck that seems to float on air and an off-road buggy that is more engine than exterior. And yes, all are fully functioning.

The 15 items on display include two pairs of Koolhaas shoes that appeared in the Hunger Games films, since the footwear conveys the same futuristic vibe as the vehicles. “It’s the unexpected things that I get the most inspiration from … and how unexpected these designs were intrigued me,” Bryan Stevens, the museum’s exhibitions and creative director, told The Hollywood Reporter. “These aren’t just unconventional cars; they’re hardly recognizable as [vehicles].”

The exhibition is titled "Disruptors" because the designers “disrupt conventional thinking as to how a certain object should appear or function,” said Stevens, adding that the goal of the museum’s innovation-oriented exhibitions is to show how vehicles intersect with other aspects of popular culture. “The Petersen is more than just a garage — it’s a way to open eyes.”

The exhibit, "Koolhaas: From Shoes to Cars," dates to early 2018 when Stevens met the now Los Angeles-based Koolhaas at a Petersen show spotlighting motorcycle design. Stevens was familiar with Koolhaas’ uncle Rem Koolhaas, who is known for his sleek, acrobatic structures such as the Seattle Public Library. On the spot, Koolhaas grabbed his iPad to show Stevens his automotive work, and also made him aware of Ruiter’s minimalist designs that included a ski mobile, the skateboard and buggy. When the Petersen reshuffled its schedule for 2019, Stevens added “Disruptors” to the mix.

“What was appealing was not just the content, but [that] the designs were readily accessible,” Stevens said. “Within a few months. we would have them to display.”

Koolhaas, who studied architecture in his native Holland, is best known as a shoe designer and his signature is clean-lined heels built from sharp geometric shapes. In 2003, he founded United Nude, which sells his abstract constructions online and at about 30 stores worldwide, as well as a pop-up store that opened at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles in May.

His designs have resonated with the entertainment world. Singer Nicki Minaj is a client and Koolhaas created a stiletto boot in collaboration with Lady Gaga to celebrate her 2012 Fame perfume launch that features sleek, gold-colored human figurines clambering up the 12-inch heel. Koolhaas designed booties with fanged heels for Effie Trinket, the cartoonish social ambassador played by Elizabeth Banks, to wear in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and for Luv, the replicant played by Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks, in Bladerunner 2049.

But car design has been among Koolhaas’ deep, long-running interests. “As a kid, I was not just drawing cars, but trying to design them,” he told THR, adding, “I’m not just a shoe guy.”

Koolhaas modeled his Low Res Car via 3D modeling software off a less extreme sedan design, gradually ratcheting down the exterior detail until he arrived at an angular abstraction, akin to a 20th century Cubist sculpture. The car body, composed of intersecting triangles, opens like a cockpit to reveal an interior shorn of most features in a commercially available car. “I always aim to get the most out of the least,” he said.

Koolhaas crafted the car's frame from steel and polycarbonate, a tough plastic composite that is easy to mold. The construction and tinting hide the wheels and driver, while the electric engine can reach speeds of 35 mph but emits only the faintest sounds. “It looks like a glass pyramid that floats,” said Stevens, noting that Koolhaas has built four of the cars to date.

Ruiter also possesses a long-standing fascination with vehicle design dating to grade school, when he transformed an old lawn mower into a go-cart. His work covers a range of business and consumer goods, including dental tools, book shelving, hot tubs and furniture. Over the past decade, he has grown increasingly interested in how people move in and around cities with maximum efficiency. “What are the levels of vehicles needed?” he told THR. “When you do few things [with design], you can tell a big story."

Ruiter produced his Reboot Buggy of common automotive parts, steel and aluminum sheeting, to recall the aspirations of the earliest horseless carriages more than a century ago. Those vehicles — built before there were paved roads — were meant to address various rugged conditions. Urban environments now present their own challenges — cracked roads, curbs and tight parking spaces. “The Buggy is capable of doing lots of things [in that domain],” he said.

The Buggy’s all-terrain tires extend from the undercarriage with the shock systems and Chevy engine clearly visible. And dark, translucent paneling brackets the driver’s compartment, which oversees a row of six headlamps. Design quirks and all, the Buggy is a fast ride, topping out at nearly 150 mph. (Ruiter says that he has taken his lone model up to 115 mph on the isolated dunes of western Michigan.) 

Another Ruiter design, the stripped-down Inner City Bike balances on 36-inch wheels, about eight inches bigger than most commercial bikes, that are 2.5 inches thick, roughly the same as a unicycle. The wheels practically touch, which is off-putting, although Ruiter says that’s by plan. “It builds tension for the viewer, emotional angst,"  he said, adding that this engages audiences. “When you ask the question and answer it right away, it’s a win.”

Other highlights of “Disruptors” include a motorcycle by Ruiter that resembles an instrument case and Koolhaas’ low-riding Consumer Car that boasts a two-way mirror hiding a panel of LED lights in the nose and an exterior partially covered in Xorel, a durable fiber derived from cane sugar.

Neither Koolhaas nor Ruiter expect to sell their creations to a wider public, although Koolhaas is looking at producing a street-legal car based on the same streamlined concepts he used in the Low Res Car. He’s hoping the exhibit may generate interest among people who would “want to build a more minimalist car.”

Ruiter simply wants to spur people to think differently about their transportation options. “I have expressed a thought, poked questions at an industry,” he said.