From ski lifts to urban cable to electricity pylons, NIMOS Design has designs on every dimension. Passion4Transport met with founder Frédéric Simon to discuss recent (ad)ventures and find out what makes his profession tick.
This March 30, a new, detachable six-seater chair lift opened at Envers in the French ski resort of La Plagne. NIMOS Design is the creative force behind the futuristic look and feel of both its station and chairs.
“The design approach for the station, which looks a bit like a mountain chalet, sought to capture that winter sports feeling,” explained Mr Simon, who, having spent his youth in Briançon (French Alps), amply qualifies as a ‘mountain’ man.
“It combines the arabesque movement of skiers, the curves of the slopes, and, importantly too, the practical function of keeping snow off.”
Although used for other structures such as the roofs of stadiums or on cruise ships, it’s the first time this latest generation of flexible composites (Précontraint TX 30 by Serge Ferrari) has been brought into play for a winter sports facility. And while appearing fragile and vulnerable from a distance, looks can be deceptive. “Extremely thick and robust, it’s designed to last 30 years, with repairs possible in between, if necessary,” reassures Mr Simon.
Built by the MND Group for operator SAP (Société d’Aménagement de la station de la Plagne), the chairlift has a technical capacity of 2,400 passengers/hr, enabling it to carry up to 3,000 every hour at peak ski times.
NIMOS Design began on the project in October 2015 by benchmarking. The next step involved working with elements provided by the constructor and on the design ideas. “We started out with a square then twisted it” – the key breakthrough was developing the initial square shape for the station towards a feeling of torsion.
Cable concept in the making
Another transport direction for the agency is the design of stations, cabs, and support equipment for ‘Cabline’ – a new take on urban cable also by MND.
Unlike other systems, this innovative technology has its cabins running over rather than under cables. “The benefits are the possibility of faster speeds, and so higher capacity, plus the ability to build the infrastructure lower off the ground than typical systems – an advantage when seeking to run them under existing infrastructure like bridges or high voltage power lines,” explains Mr Simon.
“Given that urban space is so scarce, we are working on the smallest possible land grab for the stations.”
Currently in the process of technical validation, in a first step, such a system is likely to pilot in ‘controlled public spaces’ like airports.
Back to the future
Next, I’m taken into another dimension on viewing images of the electricity pylon designed by NIMOS.
The agency came up this eye-catching design, a far cry from the pylon as we know it, in response to a call by France’s RTE national grid in 2012.
Looking at the pictures, I’m vaguely reminded of Philippe Starck’s iconic Juicy Salif.
But this extra-terrestrial design, unlike the Juicy, really is destined to function. Plus it goes beyond looks. RTE also wanted proposals that included creative thinking on use of the land grab below and in the immediate vicinity.
The NIMOS submission ticks this box by suggesting functions such as allotments and beekeeping that would also actively involve local inhabitants. Eco-design was a must too, with all candidates submitting a carbon footprint from cradle to grave.
“Three a minute”
From the mountains to cities to the countryside, I now steered Mr Simon off piste to talk about the the business of designing. Glamour? Hard graft? And where does inspiration come in, and from?
“A designer must come up with ideas all the time, every three minutes, and be curious about everything. Important too is the ability to then select and discard ideas, to discuss and integrate teams from different sectors of activity, and co-create with other partners.”
To keep an idea coming “every three minutes”, one source of inspiration for Mr Simon comes from teaching design students at ENSAAMA school of art and design (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliqués et des Métiers d’Art). “Their questions and the exchange of viewpoints are always interesting. It’s quite surprising what they come out with. A designer must keep his or her finger on the pulse and not cut themselves off from the up-and-coming generation.”
“A good design agency should be capable of dealing with different types of project,” he adds. “And the way it handles them depends very much on their focus and creativity.”
How do clients go about selecting a design agency? “Based on criteria such as the human element, skill sets, and prices. Sometimes, to shake things up a bit, they may even seek ‘loose cannon’ designers too.”
But if they have in-house design teams, why the need for external partners?
“Because they might want fresh visions, designers that have different perspectives and responses from those working internally. Other factors may be the work load, the specifics of a client request, and timing constraints.”
What about the advent of new technologies like 3D printing? “This is nothing new to design – 3D printing has been around us since the end of the 1980s. As a new tool it has changed the way designers work a bit, enabling us to create models in hours rather than weeks. This means the validation process for a design project is far quicker.”
Mr Simon then pops out of the room to return with… a 3D print model of the electricity pylon for RTE. It’s more robust than I had expected, yet light and fine lined.
“In the years to come, I think 3D printing will have a profound impact on all industries.”
Alongside 3D printing, right now there’s also a lot of talk – both in the general and industry media – about robots and drones. But again this is not because these technologies have just emerged, but rather a case of their going mainstream.
“For instance, the automotive industry has used robots for decades,” points out Mr Simon. “The big development today is that they are no longer static but can move around.”