Naval Architect Or Stylist? Page 2

Naval Architect Or Stylist?
Which should design your next boat?

By George L. Petrie — May 2001
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• Part 1: Architect or Stylist
• Part 2: Architect or Stylist?

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Aesthetics are very important to most yacht owners, and the perception may be that a stylist will be more creative or artistic in sculpting the exterior shape. Espinosa claims that about 80 percent of his clients seek him out because they like the “look” he is able to create. But he attributes his success as a stylist to his formal education as a building architect, which he says gave him a keen appreciation for the crucial relationship between external form and internal function. For example, window placement is a key element of exterior styling that is highly constrained by interior functionality; people need to be able to see out without having to stoop or stretch.

It’s also true that many naval architects, like Jack Sarin and Tom Fexas, are themselves fine stylists. As a full-service design firm, Sparkman & Stephens has its own in-house stylists but will work with an outside one if the client prefers. The main thing to consider is that as the number of people increases, it becomes more difficult to coordinate the process. So the owner may have to hire a project manager to make sure the naval architect, stylist, and interior decorator are all working together. And this is before the shipyard enters the picture.

Because the shipyard is usually the party ultimately responsible for a yacht’s construction and performance, most large custom builders have their own naval architects. So why should an owner hire his own naval architect? Why not just leave the engineering details to the builder? The danger in that approach is that each shipyard bidding on the project may interpret the specifications differently, so the owner ends up comparing apples and oranges. If a naval architect prepares the owner’s bid package, each shipyard will be bidding on the same engineering solution. Even in a situation where the owner has decided on a particular yard, having his own naval architect will let him gauge how big a margin the yard has allowed itself in estimating weight and powering to make sure the yacht achieves her specified design speed.

According to Matzat, the parts of a design that are the most easily overlooked (the “boring” engineering details) are the ones that usually cause the biggest problems. At a project’s inception most owners are focused on looks and speed. Design issues like providing adequate ventilation for the engines and allowing the air conditioning to be serviced without dismantling the saloon are details easily overlooked by a designer or stylist who does not have a full appreciation of the engineering aspects. Addressing those considerations later in the design process is almost always more expensive.

If you consider choosing a stylist to design your next custom yacht, be sure he or she knows how yachts are built, operated, and maintained and has an appreciation for mundane details like sight lines and how to attach a fender. And bring the naval architect and interior decorator into the project at its inception, so the design can evolve into an integrated, harmonious blend of structure, space allocation, aesthetics, and performance.

George L. Petrie is a professor of naval architecture at the University of New Orleans and provides maritime consulting services. His Web site is

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This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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