César Muntada: “Light of the future stands for communication”

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What makes up Audi’s DNA? Light plays an important role here. A visit to the creative workshop of César Muntada, Head of Lightning Design at Audi, not only brought light into the darkness, but also a journey into the future at the speed of light.

Anyone driving an Audi at night for the first time will notice a big difference to other car models. His light turns darkness into day. However, it is not only the brightness that captivates the driver, but also the design of the light reflectors. It is as if the car communicates with both the inside and the outside world.

“An Audi must be recognizable at night at first glance, from near and far,” explains César Muntada, Head of Lightning Design at AUDI AG.

The DNA for the communication code

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Audi Q6 e-tron (Photo: Audi AG)

Having long been enthusiastic about lighting design and curious about Audi’s DNA, César Muntada and his team invited me to their creative workshop in Ingolstadt. The building is an architectural work of art with functional comfort. The reception hall is a spacious room that is flooded with light through large glass surfaces. In the middle of this room stands the future Audi Q6 e-tron in its elegant white prototype costume. Rear and front headlights are visible. And, as expected, they look very different from what we’ve seen on the road so far. The digital OLED combination rearlight, consisting of six OLED panels with a total of 360 segments, is a luminous symbiosis of many small triangles and moves like a flowing waterfall. “A diode like this is 200 times thinner than a human hair,” Muntada explains to me, which increases my amazement by several levels.

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Audi Q6 e-tron (Photo: Audi AG)

The completely new design of the rear lights inspires engineers and designers who work hand in hand at Audi. Three-dimensional shapes are created on two-dimensional surfaces. “Audi was the first manufacturer to use OLEDs. Our engineers have been working on developing the technology for almost 10 years. Success takes time, but also a team that shares the same vision. 450 design employees from 25 countries work here together with our innovative developers and are shaping the future of mobility,” Muntada, who has been working here since 2007, proudly tells me.

César Muntada was born in Barcelona in 1967 to a family of artists. His father was an architect, his grandmother a pianist. He knew early on that he wanted to become a designer. Would it be light? He didn’t know that at the time. As a child, he certainly received inspiration for his later career from Rótulos Roura, the advertising company founded by his grandfather in 1930. The company, a leader in neon advertising in particular, was also known for its oversized owl with huge eyes on the roof, which lit up at night. And while the advertising was banned from the cityscape a few years later, the owl remained, having long since become an unmistakable symbol of Barcelona and a popular meeting point and landmark in the city.

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César Muntada explains the digital OLED rear light on the Audi Q6 e-tron to me (Photo: Audi AG)

The owl, a symbol of wisdom and intuition for thousands of years, brings light into the darkness with its magical eyes. And that is exactly what Muntada and his team do – they bring light into the mobile world in a very wise way. “Light is the first thing we humans see when we come into the world. From then on, it accompanies us throughout our lives, day and night. Our perception depends on how the light describes the world. Even as children, we learn to organize the world around us according to the sun and moon. Light teaches us what is friendly, dangerous, sharp, round, near, far or distant.

The DNA for the symbiosis of design and philosophy

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Photo: Audi AG

César Muntada, who studied design and philosophy, is inspired by the light that changes the world every day, for example through the seasons. A combination of philosophy and design can be found in his work and thus also in Audi’s DNA: “At first glance, a car is essentially defined by two things: its proportions during the day and its lights at night, when the proportions are not visible. When you look into the headlights of a car, it’s a bit like looking into a person’s eyes: You can see the beauty of the form, but you can also see the character behind it.”

César Muntada leads me into an oversized room with no windows at all. There are just a few chairs and an oversized horizontal screen. “This room is the place for the first presentation of our new models to the board. I would like to give you a deeper insight into our lighting DNA here.” Muntada smiles, I am excited. I feel like I’m in meditation mode, where you leave this world as nothing and enter a sphere without space and time. Just being. Ready for enlightenment!

The DNA for knowing, feeling and dreaming

A visit with César Muntada; Head of Lightning Design at Audi AG
Photo: Audi AG

Muntada shows me what Audi is all about in a presentation. It is a journey into a magical world of design, art and wisdom. He explains the meaning of light to me: “Light originates on the horizon, there is always light there”. Don’t we often look to the horizon to see the sun rise or set? To the place where the sun is born and dies every day, as the ancient Egyptians described it so wonderfully? Where the light comes and goes? This is what light brings us: knowledge, feeling, dreaming. Nature gives us the knowledge. We just have to be in harmony with it. The world of emotions gives us the opportunity to feel. We just have to surrender to our feelings.

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And the digital world? It gives us the opportunity to dream and to realize these dreams! Mission: To create an experience that lasts. “Less is More” – Audi’s DNA is as timeless as the Bauhaus style or that of architect Mies van der Rohe. “More from less” – the DNA is integration like Buckminster Fuller’s futuristic architecture. “Less but better” – the DNA is progress like the clear functionalities and simple forms of industrial designer Dieter Rams, who even inspired “Apple” with his holistic design for “Braun”. Muntada combines all of this in its lighting design.

The DNA for progress through light


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Audi – Youtube – Speed of Light Reloaded

Muntada combines technology and design to create a clear, emotional experience. I am shown a movie about the history of light. It begins with a kerosene lamp at the Horch, which is lit in the evening, and ends with a vision of the future. From 1920 to 1970, relatively little changes by today’s standards. But then the development continues at a rapid pace: “The interval between years is getting shorter and shorter. Light innovations come at a rapid “speed of light” and we have been moving forward at this speed ever since,” says Muntada enthusiastically. Light is in our genes. I believe him immediately. His enthusiasm is quickly infectious.

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Photo: Audi AG

The presentation, which feels like it fills the entire wide wall in front of me, catapults me into a future universe. Surrounded by darkness, which is initially illuminated by the flowing light of the digital matrix LED headlights, the digital OLED rear lights and the additional laser high beam. Today, Audi is digital, individual and on the move. “With the new Audi model generation, we have digitized light. On the one hand, this can be seen in the segmented signature, which reflects the binary code of the digital world through light and shadow. On the other hand, we have set light in motion. Dynamic animations underline the progressive character of our models and turn the spotlights into digital eyes. This creates a combination of physical and digital experience,” explains Muntada.

The DNA of light as a language

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Photo: Audi AG

We have arrived in the future. We are actually already in the future with Audi. During the day, light is used as a component. But at night, light shapes the brand. Then it is in motion. You can do a lot with digital OLED combination rearlights. Organic light-emitting diodes can be used to artfully design the aesthetics of light that speaks to society. Yes, read correctly! We humans are social. And thanks to AI, there will be a lighting language in the future. In addition to artificial, the A in AI also stands for Auto. The future is a symbiosis of digitalization, personalization and dynamism. However, AI can also stand for “AESTHETIC INTELLIGENCE”, the guiding principle of Audi Design, which stands for the fusion of innovative technology and progressive design. Communication actually begins in the cockpit of the interior. On the exterior, we also enjoy lane and orientation lighting, specific dynamic lighting scenarios, individualization of digital light signatures, orientation lighting on the highway, extended traffic information, and, and, and …

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Light Urban Experience (Photo: Audi AG)

Automated driving will add to this: “The importance of light in future mobility will clearly increase. In today’s series models, light is primarily a safety factor in addition to aesthetic reasons. With automated driving, however, the main function of light will no longer be to see, but to communicate with other road users. It will therefore have a social component. To this end, we are developing a new form of lighting language that must be self-explanatory and internationally understandable across language and cultural boundaries. This communication can either take place on the vehicle itself or be projected onto the ground.

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Photo: Audi AG

While Muntada explains everything to me, I take a look at the future on the oversized screen. In addition to safety, my car will also be able to project a warning on the ground. And the ideas that show what can be possible continue. A drone that accompanies the journey through nature with light in order to see animals and the path better. An umbrella that lights up when you open it. I’d like to have it now in Sarajevo, where the street lighting still leaves a lot to be desired and my ankles are anything but happy about the many potholes. I find out more about the future of light-based gamification. I am fascinated by car-to-x communication. With the approval of the licensing authorities, following traffic could be made aware of local hazards such as black ice or the end of a traffic jam at an early stage, while the digital matrix LED headlights project a clearly visible carpet of light with various warnings to the front.

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Photo: Audi AG

César Muntada concludes his presentation. The light goes on. I am catapulted back to reality. No, he didn’t talk too much. César Muntada moves people’s hearts with his passion. This is not only to his credit, as he repeatedly emphasizes. His team and he are like a network of nerve tracts that form a common nerve cord that makes his vision a reality. I am happy, my brain has formed new nerve cords. And my cell telomeres have also become longer. I don’t want to leave, I want to see and experience even more. Above all, I want to return to the future of light.

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White on black – This sketch by César Muntada was given as a gift. (Photo: Audi AG)

There is no light without shadow. We only know light from darkness. And it’s always about seeing and being seen. Thanks to Audi’s lighting DNA, this is now possible both day and night.

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Thank you, César Muntada! (Photo: Audi AG)
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