BMW opens new Designworks studio in California

Van Hooydonk characterises the move as a response to the demands of today’s work-life balance 


BMW Group has moved the US headquarters of its design studio to Santa Monica, California. Designworks had been based in Newbury Park, about an hour’s drive northwest, since 1988. It has additional outposts in Munich and Shanghai. 

The news comes as the innovation office for the automotive group celebrates the 50-year mark since Chuck Pelly founded it as Designworks USA in 1972. Pelly’s consultancy became a wholly owned subsidiary of BMW in 1995. It designs things for many clients, including a futuristic camper concept for North Face, business class cabins for EVA Air and the livery of David Letterman’s new hybrid BMW race car. 

Adrian Van Hooydonk, the design director of BMW Group, characterises the move, which takes Designworks US square footage down from 70,000 sq ft to 16,000 sq ft in the new space, as a response to the demands of today’s work-life balance.

“Why go on the 101 at a certain time?” he says during a recent tour of the office building, referencing LA’s notorious highway traffic. “We’re not going to force people to do that. But I believe that with all the stuff we put in here — and coming out of the whole Covid home-office period of roughly three year — I think people will want to get together here.” 

Opened on Nov 7, Designworks’s 65 employees will be encouraged to use the studio at least three days a week, a spokesperson confirms. 

The new space incorporates minimalistic Scandinavian-style furniture with warm wood tones, oranges and chocolate browns. It sports the hallmarks of hybrid office life: Small booths, group tables and individual workstations that can be used as standing or sitting desks. Such furniture as modular sofas, black marble table and tall bar stools come from Muuro and Knoll. 

What the new Designworks’s office doesn’t have is staging for the large clay models traditionally used in automotive design, which helps explains the radical down-sizing. Van Hooydonk says that setting aside much space for clay modelling is no longer necessary. 

“Basically, our design work is done in the computer,” he says. “If we want something milled, we can do that with outside companies. The space is still just large enough to put a car model in and to look at that if you want to do a check. But the ways of working that we have now are far more connected with Munich — far more digital. We felt that the footprint of the studio needed to reflect that.” 

News of the move follows multiple significant announcements in recent weeks from the Munich-based automaker. On Oct 15, BMW announced it would move manufacturing of its electric MINIs from the UK to China, citing production line inefficiencies. It also said it would invest an additional US$1.7 billion in its South Carolina facilities to build six new EV models by 2030. 

Designworks will not be open to the public, although some events will be accessible to non-employees, a spokesperson says. — Bloomberg

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition