(james benedict brown) on the road

Great car design #1: Skoda Roomster

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 13 February, 2008


If you are a parent and you own a car that has seat-back DVD players like these installed, you might want to skip this post. Why? Because I’m about to call you a bad parent.

I have realised that one of the reasons I enjoy studying architecture and designing buildings so much is that I enjoy looking at the world around me. I am a born traveller, comfortable on board an aeroplane, bus or train as long as I’m near a window. I’ve had some of my most memorable travel experiences while on the road (hence this blog’s name, and hence also ontherails), most often when I have been in motion, soaking up the sights of a new landscape through a great big picture window. The luxury of a train ride is that, of course, you don’t have to do any driving. You get a ground level panorama with no obligation to concentrate on steering and controlling a vehicle.

When did this passion for window gazing begin? I’d argue that it began as soon as I was strapped into the first car I remember my parents’ owning: a metallic red 1982 Mark I Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet, purchased new just a few weeks before I was born. Perhaps it was a last impulsive moment of youth before settling down to raise a child, I don’t know. But I credit that choice of car with helping to develop much of my inquisitive character. Successively smaller and less structural childseats held me up so that my young eyes could peer over the lowest edge of the back seat window. And then as soon as the weather cleared, the roof came down. There was no more exciting way to travel, and no better way to inspire jealously in the school yard when I was collected at the end of the day in a little red car with a carefully folded roof.

So seat-back DVD players are, to me, anathema. Such vital hours, days and even weeks of a child’s life can be spent in the car. Every moment is an opportunity to observe the world around and take it in, maybe ever pester the folks up front with a question or two. In-car entertainment systems are a lazy way of silencing a child while in transit. I’m not claiming any expert knowledge in parenting, nor proclaiming that children should never watch television. But I am bemoaning the sad intrusion of TV into travel – the wonderful opportunity for children to see so much more of the world than their home environment.

So my first nomination for a truly great car design is an oddball. But it’s a brilliant design. It’s the Škoda Roomster.


It might look like two designers independently created the front and back halves of the car, before splicing them together, but that’s the point. I really admire smart small MPVs like the Nissan Note and the Fiat Idea: it’s a great combination of a small car platform and an upright, adaptable body. But the Roomster is easily the most innovative. Just look it.


Like a great building, you can read this car instantly. This is a family car. The parents sit up front, and the children sit in the back. And the kids get the biggest windows, because they’re the ones who get the chance to see the world as it goes by without having to concentrate on driving. What’s more, the back row of seats is lifted a few centimetres higher than those in the front, enhancing views forward and sideways. A high roofline creates a spacious and very practical interior, and the overall shape is perhaps the boldest mini-MPV on the market that hasn’t been adapted from a panel van (such as the equally clever but slightly less appealing Renault Kangoo).


If I wasn’t planning on becoming a designer of buildings, I’d want to design cars. Perhaps one day I’ll get the chance to do both. But until then, you can expect me to carry on noticing and commenting on some great car designs.


2 Responses

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  1. m & r said, on 16 February, 2008 at 09:40

    glad we had such a formative influence !

  2. GBG said, on 4 April, 2008 at 18:01

    This is a great car. I totally agree that small cars are where it is at, design wise. Seems that when the constraints are tighter, the results are better. Just like in buildings.

    Like you, I’m trained as an architect, but now design books, and am constantly looking out the window.


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