October 04, 2011
The Desire for the Panoramic View
THE craze for panoramas swept America in the 1840s, inspiring both P. T. Barnum and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Panoramas of the era were giant realistic paintings of exotic landscapes, unscrolled on rollers to the accompaniment of piano music. They astonished audiences, much as IMAX films did some 150 years later.
Americans have repeatedly indulged in big views ever since: picture windows in the ranch house, CinemaScope at the drive-in, wide screen television in the media room.
A similar passion for the wider view may be taking shape in automobiles. Huge double sunroofs are growing more popular. They offer a view of the sky that attracts about as many car buyers as those who get navigation units, at a cost roughly equivalent to the $1,500 that is the car salesman’s rule of thumb for leather seats.
The Web site of an auto industry publication, Wardsauto.com, recently reported that 31 percent of vehicles are bought with a sunroof today, while a decade ago only about 20 percent had one.
The roofs of some cars with panoramic glass — the Kia Optima is an example — are painted in dark reflective colors or covered with materials designers call foils to give the impression of a roof made entirely of glass. The appeal may be more fashion than function, as with the vogue of the 1950s, when some models had their entire upper bodies painted white to simulate convertibles.
But there is also genuinely new technology overhead.
The Magic Sky glass roof on the folding hardtop of the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster changes from dark to clear at the touch of a button. Voltage passing through particles in the glass causes them to realign, lightening or darkening the roof. (A panorama roof with permanently dark-tinted glass is also available.)
According to Mercedes, the technology is based on the physics of a plate condenser: when voltage is applied to the glass, the embedded particles position themselves to let light to pass through the glass. If the voltage remains switched off, the particles position themselves randomly, blocking the light, and the glass remains dark. The price of this option is $2,500.
Light from above signals luxury. The romantic appeal of the panoramic roof may be suggested by a BMW television advertisement that shows the driver refilling his coffee mug from a low-flying military tanker aircraft. A recent Volvo spot showed happy vehicles with their roofs open at night, light shining upward.
Lincoln counts the panoramic roof as a luxury feature and promises that future models will be distinguished from garden-variety Fords by large sliding-glass roof panels. But Ford, too, is emphasizing glass in future models.
The Evos, a design study introduced at the Frankfurt auto show last month that serves as a summary of the Ford brand’s future design language, offers a band of glass in the roof.
“It runs from windshield to backlight, but we put in a couple of chicanes,” Ford’s vice president for design, J Mays, said.
Not all panoramic roofs have to be glass or high-tech. The Fiat 500 offers an optional folding canvas roof, evocative of the 1950s. The Jeep Liberty also offers a canvas roof, the Sky Slider.
Perhaps only one step remains in the evolution of the panoramic roof: no glass at all.
The Pantheon in Rome, considered one of the greatest buildings in the world, offers a sunroof: a 30-foot hole in the dome. It brings in light and not much more than an occasional sprinkle of rain onto the backs of pigeons beneath.
It also has a cool Latin name, ideal for marketing: oculus.
Source (article): NEWYORKTIMES.COM
Source (pictures): AUTOGAUL.COM, HYNDAI-BLOG.COM