Picasso’s Blue Period lasted three years. Wassily Kandinsky’s Blaue Reiter move- ment, about the same. Cadillac’s “art and science” design philosophy? It’s taken roughly 15 trips around the sun, and counting. In that span, no other auto- maker has so doggedly—or so publicly— championed a unifying principle. “Art and science” has defined as much as it has confined Cadillac to a palette of sharp- cut lines, vertical lighting schemes, and unwavering angularity from nose to tail. Having literally boxed itself in, did Cadillac leave room for its design to evolve?
An answer came this summer with the Escala concept, which debuted at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance in California. The full-size sedan, whose name means “scale” in Spanish, represents a nu- clear expansion of Cadillac’s styling. Soft contours, dramatically arcing roofline, understated branding, a Jaguar’s feline mane: Behold, the anti-Escalade.
Is it the anti-Cadillac, too? Not according to Taki Karras, exterior design manager on the Escala project. “Back when we originally launched ‘art and science,’ we really had to hit the consumer in the face with design,” he says. “And it worked; we got noticed. But as we build this brand, we want to become more sophisticated. And that means developing the design language.”
An impulse toward brand building may seem incongruous with a 114-year-old company. Yet Cadillac has undertaken massive shifts of late, including the relocation of executive teams from Michigan to New York, a strong product push into China, and—as the Escala suggests—a broadening of its styling. In the Escala’s case, that broadening still occurred within the framework of “art and science,” Karras argues. “[‘Art and science’] is like a scale,” he says. “You can put your hand on one side and weigh it down more than the other. Es- cala had to be developed more toward the ‘art’ side.” So while the Escala may read initially as an abrupt departure from Cadil- lac’s 21st-century design tendencies, Karras says that’s not so.
The car’s audacity, however, can’t be downplayed. Principal among the Escala’s heresies is its inclusion of strong horizontal features. “Cadillac has always had a dominant vertical lighting scheme,” Karras says. “This is the first to employ horizontal elements along with the vertical elements, which prevent your eye from interruptions when going around the vehicle.”
Such a break from brand orthodoxy was, not surprisingly, thrilling for the clay knife-wielders. “It was freeing for us,” Karras says. “It created a lower, wider stance, and really complements the proportions.”
In the brand’s jet age heyday, Cadillacs dripped with ornamentation: chrome fenders, flamboyant fins, gaudy taillights. Karras says that in 2016, a large Cadillac must let form and silhouette do the heavy lifting. “From a 50-foot lead, [the Escala] had to look very bold in its proportions, but also simple,” he says. “Especially at this scale— it’s quite a large car. The first read has to be ‘bold,’ ‘sophisticated,’ ‘beautiful.’ Then, in the second and third reads, you get more into the ‘science’ end of it.”
But is the Escala, and the sensuous new path it opens, transferrable to showrooms? Karras demurs on the car’s production prospects, but sees open road ahead for the ideas it presents. “When I look at the de- tails and surfacing, they definitely can be applied in our production studio,” he says. “They’re so simple and clean. You could go bold and garish, but we are not that.”