Autumn 2017

Our Knights & Distinguished Personalities
Success by design

Celebrated Italian design house Pininfarina is promoting its brand of architectural excellence and innovation in the Gulf

The name evokes images of luxury cars and dramatic designs, but Pininfarina does more than just design cars, with visionary concepts for everything from architecture and interiors to transportation, including yachts, planes, private jets and people movers. 

Now, the third-generation Italian house is boosting its Middle East presence, winning a contract to design the interiors of the Innovation Centre in the Sustainable City, developed by Diamond Developers along with others projects in the region. 

The 85-year-old firm will also open its Middle East headquarters in Dubai by the end of the year.

“Pininfarina has a strong heritage in design,”  Paolo Pininfarina, chairman of the Pininfarina Group, tells Arabian Knight.  “Founded in 1930 by my grandfather Pinin, the company continued to expand under the leadership of my father, who started important collaborations, most notably with Ferrari in 1951, a relationship that gave life to some of the most desired cars in history.”

He continues: “In 1986, I founded Pininfarina Extra to extend our design capabilities outside the automotive industry, as I believe our DNA can find expression in different fields, from yachts to furniture to luxury objects. We believe the Middle Eastern understands and appreciates our style made of elegance, luxury and outstanding shapes that give life to extraordinary buildings all around the world, from Miami to Singapore, from Sao Paulo to Istanbul.”


Pininfarina is not only an architectural studio but a revered brand, yielding an unmistakable style inspired by the dynamism, curved and fast lines of the family’s automotive legacy. Its success lies in an ability to cross-fertilise concepts, bringing design solutions from non-construction sectors, combining elegance, purity and innovation in a contemporary and timeless architectural vision.

“As a brand, Pininfarina has focused its business towards creating bespoke designs for a highly discerning audience, something that has become synonymous amongst our Middle East consumers,” Paolo says.

Pininfarina’s philosophy is based on a unique combination of strong character and deep understanding of the local culture, much in the same way an atelier with a powerful identity is able to create tailor-made clothing, says Paolo. “Given the nature of our business, our clientele will always remain exclusive so we expect our business development to occur through a soft marketing strategy through word of mouth, and of course on the credibility of our back catalogue of work.

“We will approach customers by studying their requirements and then deliver beyond expectation. Our promise is to create unique, outstanding projects, which will further galvanise the region’s reputation for creating some of the most extraordinary buildings in the world.” 


Under his management, in a 25-year period, Pininfarina Extra has developed more than 500 projects and has consolidated relationships with prestigious international companies like Alenia Aermacchi, Bovet, Calligaris, Chivas Regal, Coca-Cola, Costa Coffee, Fincantieri, Gorenje, Juventus, Lavazza, Martini&Rossi, Motorola, Petronas, Samsung, Schaefer, Snaidero and Unilever. 

The CEO is also the recipient of several awards, the most recent of which include the 2016 iF Design Award for the residential tower Cyrela by Pininfarina in Sao Paolo, Brazil, the 2015 American Architecture Award and 2017 German Design Award for Vitra in Balneario Camboriù,  Brazil, and the 2016 International Architecture Award for Istanbul New Airport ATC Tower in Turkey.

“We recently won the competition for the New Istanbul Airport Tower, competing with international architectural teams, including Zaha Hadid, Fuksas, Moshe Safdie, Grimshaw-Nordic and RMJM. In this, we have created an iconic building, destined to become a landmark for Istanbul and we aim to be able to do the same here in the GCC,” Paolo says.

“Having designed some of the world’s most luxurious private residences, we believe our existing clientele combined with the market demand in the GCC will be a key area of focus.”

It is interesting to note that Pininfarina was never really the family’s name before Paolo’s grandfather Batista (nicknamed Pinin) had the vision to change his name. 

“It was a great idea to officially change the name from Farina to Pininfarina,” he explains. “My grandfather convinced the president of Italy at the time to make a law that would allow him to officially change his last name to Pininfarina, creating only one family in the world today with that surname. And it is my hope that after me, the fourth generation of this family will take over as the head of the organisation.” 

Paolo was born in Turin – where the company is still headquartered – in 1958 but if he wasn’t the torchbearer of a revered design legacy, he would probably be a drummer. “I always wanted to play the drums,” Pininfarina tells us with a kind smile, adding that he also has a set of special drums designed by the firm. “I like reading. I like sports too, but not the competitive kind. I have to be so competitive in business that I don’t like to be competitive in my spare time as well. And I have to travel so much for business that I like to spend my spare time at home with my family. One day, when I retire, I will visit all the places that I have no time to see now.” 


In 2015, Mahindra Group acquired Pininfarina in a deal worth about $185 million but while it provides funds and financial safety in addition to potential leads, Pininfarina’s management and the designs remain unaffected by their involvement.

With competition so fierce in this part of the world, and architects competing to create iconic designs, how does Pininfarina plan to set itself apart from other competitors? 

Paolo elaborates: “We believe our architectural language is unmistakable – based on more than 85 years of experience in creating timeless beauty, we have carved out a reputation that leaves a wake of some of the most desirable objects from the past hundred years. Leveraging on our automotive heritage, we give life to curved and sophisticated lines, conveying dynamism in our building designs.

“Our main differentiator is that we still like to operate as a boutique; every client, every project is different and we are obsessed about quality; business is a consequence. This unique and tailored architectural approach combined with the prestige of our brand, makes our value proposition stand apart from the market and it represents a power tool to guarantee the success of our global partners too.

“We believe that the GCC is also a region that respects heritage and pedigree, and in that area Pininfarina requires no introduction,” Paolo concludes.

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