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First-class seats

First-class seats

Designer Rafael Falkenburger describes unique seat features in the Audi urbansphere concept offering first-class comfort as part of a new interior concept.

Interview: Bernd Zerelles – Photo: AUDI AG Reading time: 5 min

The vehicle shown is a concept vehicle that is not available as a production vehicle.

A close-up inside the Audi urbansphere concept of two seats with light elements in the headrest area.A close-up inside the Audi urbansphere concept of two seats with light elements in the headrest area.

Rafael, the new Audi urbansphere concept is a lounge on wheels. Can you still call your contribution to the car a vehicle seat or has it now moved into the realm of furniture design?
Both. Concept cars are increasingly spotlighting seats. That’s because nowadays your time in a car needn’t be focused exclusively on getting from A to B. You can do other things, too. That means creating a homely feeling of well-being in the vehicle is a priority. After all, if you spend a lot of time on the road, you want to be able to cocoon in a quiet, private and attractive environment.

Throughout that time, you’re in closest contact with your seat. That’s why the design, ergonomics and comfort it provides are hugely important. I like to use a good pair of shoes as a comparison: No matter how stylish they are, you’ll only enjoy wearing them if they’re comfortable. And the same goes for our seats. Thanks to their extensive functions, they are not only an integral part of the vehicle interior, but also sculptures in their own right. A seat like this would be equally at home in a living room.

A black and white portrait of designer Rafael Falkenburger looking into the camera.A black and white portrait of designer Rafael Falkenburger looking into the camera.
A sketch depicts a full-scale car seat in the Audi urbansphere concept.A sketch depicts a full-scale car seat in the Audi urbansphere concept.

A seat like this would be equally at home in a living room.

Rafael Falkenburger

Form follows function: Is that even truer for seats?
All aspects of our design must enter into a symbiotic relationship within a clear aesthetic framework. That means the seats interact with the interior as a whole and echo the Audi design idiom’s clean lines and commanding surfaces, which also define the exterior look. To put its function in the simplest terms, the seat should give you everything you need so that you’re more or less unaware of it. It should act like a useful extension of your body, cooling down when it’s too hot and warming you when it’s cold.

When designing the seats for a new study such as the Audi urbansphere concept, what requirements do you need to meet?
In designing the Audi urbansphere concept, our focus was on the Chinese market. During the co-creation process with Chinese customers, they indicated that they wanted soft, comfortable seats. The challenge was to create an exceptionally comfy seat that is also clearly cast in the Audi mould but – not to overstate the point – doesn’t look like a cloud. For us, soft doesn’t translate as a seat you sink into. Instead, our ambition in creating a first-class seat is to pleasantly surprise customers, first wowing them with its looks and then impressing them with how it’s still comfortable eight hours later.

 
A sketch shows two car seats in the Audi urbansphere concept that are turned to face each other, with a table in between.

In the Audi urbansphere concept, passengers can turn their seats to face each other, just like at home.

What sets the first-class seats in the Audi urbansphere concept apart?
To my mind, their formal aesthetics, beauty and comfort extend an irresistible invitation the moment you open the door. They deliver on that promise with comfort derived not just from their material design but above all from their look and feel. From the very first glance, customers sense that their journey will be relaxing and they can take time out from their stressful everyday lives to enjoy it.

Since they are not immediately apparent, all the functions integrated into the first-class seats then come as a pleasant surprise. Chinese customers like to sit in the rear, so the amenities and entertainment offerings are configured with that mind. This focus is apparent from the moment the passengers embark because the seat in the second row turns towards them, as if welcoming them aboard and making it easier not only to get into but also disembark from the spacious interior.

And what seat functions are you treated to once aboard the Audi urbansphere concept?
Once in their seat, each passenger can manage their own separate comfort zone. They do so with the help of a personal digital assistant who greets them and will, for instance, scan the passenger’s face to determine stress levels based on the size of their pupils. The system then suggests different measures such as mood lighting, music or meditation in Relax mode.

In Relax mode, the seat reclines and the foot rest, which was previously hidden under the seat, slides into position. What’s more, with the privacy collar, occupants can enjoy total me time.

We create an immersive experience throughout the vehicle interior.

Rafael Falkenburger

A view inside the Audi urbansphere concept’s interior with its four individual seats.A view inside the Audi urbansphere concept’s interior with its four individual seats.

What is the privacy collar?
It’s an adjustable collar element fitted to the rear seats, which occupants can activate and control via eye tracking. This privacy collar creates an additional cocooning effect. If you turn the collar inwards by 25 degrees, you can make phone calls undisturbed, listen to music through the built-in speakers or simply relax in a screened-off environment.

When you want to engage with your fellow passengers, the privacy collar can be turned outwards at the same time as the seat rotates inwards to create a lounge-like setup. Face to face, you can then have a friendly chat and enjoy a drink together. Thanks to the wealth of options and functionalities, we create an immersive experience throughout the Audi urbansphere concept’s vehicle interior.

A bird’s eye view of the full-scale Audi urbansphere concept.

Co-creation

The brand with the Four Rings developed the Audi urbansphere concept in a collaborative process with potential customers. Known as co-creation, this approach entails specifically responding to their wishes. Read on to discover how impetus from co-creation fed into the design process of the Audi urbansphere concept.