Bicycle Umbrella Study - Richard Sapper

3 Richard Sapper designs that stayed unmade

A bike that keeps you dry, a ship that stops you being seasick and Google glass - long before it came (and went)

When Richard Sapper died last year, Kieran Long, head of architecture and design at the V&A said that the German born, Milan based, designer combined "the elegant minimalism and problem-solving of Dieter Rams or Jonathan Ive with the humour and craft of the Milanese designers he knew so well and worked with for years".

It’s those qualities that are to the fore in the three designs below. But although Sapper is perhaps best known today known for his coffee maker for Alessi, his Tizio desk lamp, and original IBM Think Pad, not all of his designs made it off the drawing board quite so successfully - and, in the case of the three below, they didn't make it at all.  


Wearable Technology - Richard Sapper
Wearable Technology - Richard Sapper


Wearable PC (1997)

"In the middle of the nineties I was convinced that the wearable PC would be the next step in the evolution of computing. So we made prototypes of this device to demonstrate its capacity. We wanted to position it in various locations about the body: we had a small screen with a microphone and an earphone that were both mounted on a pair of glasses, and then we placed a central unit in your pocket and the remote control in your hand. One problem was that people wearing such a device were going to look like monsters. This was the challenge we faced: trying not to look like monsters while using new computers. It was a very difficult yet very exciting task."

"At the time I believed that the wearable PC would absorb the phone - and many other accessories and devices like agendas, alarm clocks, and calculators. It could have been used to watch films like never before, as the screen, which was placed in front of the eye - and was only half the size of the eyeball - allowed you to see images in a life-size scale. And it was also my belief that this technology could revolutionize medical practice, as surgeons would be able to check X-rays during operations without taking their eyes off the patient."


Richard Sapper - Phaidon
Richard Sapper - Phaidon

"I tried to convince IBM that they needed to do this thing for medicine, to help people who cannot function normally. But the Wearable PC never took hold the way I hoped. There wasn’t very much imagination within IBM about how the Wearable PC could be marketed. They didn’t think they could make money with it and so on. And after time, they didn’t want to hear of it anymore."


Bicycle Umbrella (1979 - main photo)

The bicycle umbrella was intended to protect riders from bad weather and was developed as part of Sapper’s mid-to-late-Seventies studies into solving inner-city congestion. It was a topic that evolved over many years for the designer and included a wide range of proposals and projects, such as bike tracks and moving walkways; a bus designed for FIAT that enabled passengers to store their bicycles in a designated bus area; a folding steel bicycle with small wheels for Batavus; a folding scooter and the lightweight aluminum bicycle Zoombike, which easily folded and unfolded and fitted into the luggage compartment of a car.


Passenger Ship with Gambling Facilities - Richard Sapper
Passenger Ship with Gambling Facilities - Richard Sapper


Passenger Ship with Gambling Facilities (model, 1991)

This was Sapper's first project for a large passenger ship employing SWATH technology. SWATH stands for Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull which minimizes the ship's volume near the surface area of the sea, where wave energy is located, and maximizes a vessel's stability, even in high seas and at high speeds. Placing the majority of a ship's displacement under the waves is similar in concept to creating a ship that rides atop twin submarines. It eliminates the pitch and roll movement of the ship in waves up to 7 meters high. Handy in ensuring that the roulette chip you've placed on a winning number doesn’t end up on a losing one if the boat yaws unexpectedly port or starboard.

See more great designs - made and unmade - in our new Richard Sapper book. And, if you're a fan of important and landmark design, check out Mario Bellini, our two books on Ettore Sottsass and our small but perfectly formed The Design Book