Reality in 3-D
Superyachts may just be the ultimate art form.
By Jason Y. Wood
If you think about it, the folks that own these marvels of engineering are in the same rarified group that scoops up a Picasso here and a Monet there. But there’s a universality to real art, whereas it would seem to be its singular nature that affords the superyacht its value.
Still, when you look at the resulting forms, there can be no denying these yachts are art. But the medium is such that a patron must be in the picture. And the form follows a specific set of functions. The reality of the marine environment enters the equation.
We’re curious about the interaction between client and designer, shrouded as it is in the secrecy and confidentiality of a bespoke project looking to break new ground. So how does the relationship between the yacht designer and owner begin? And once it begins, where does the inspiration come from?
Of course, the best people to answer these questions are the designers. At least they’re in the business. Superyacht owners, if you even know their names, would likely answer all questions about a project’s design with, “He did what I asked.”
But the designers have a different take. “Every client is different and actually more often than not they know what they don’t want—not what they want—which is kind of good in a way because it gives you options,” says Espen Øino, a Monaco-based naval architect and engineer who worked on such yachts as Al Said, Octopus, Katara, and Kismet among numerous others. “You’ve got to read between the lines and interpret.” But rather than look at the process as plumbing the mind of the client as a sort of yacht psychologist, the designer can fill in the blanks with his own inspiration.
“The owner is very much an important element in inspiration, definitely,” Øino says. “But he’s not the only source of inspiration.” Øino went on to explain that this becomes more apparent when the commission is for a head of state, where it’s more of a government project than someone’s personal yacht. “That’s more difficult because you don’t really have a physical client to interact with,” Øino says. “The client’s personality and the level of curiosity is definitely a defining factor, but it’s not the only inspiration.”
Every client, whether he represents a government or is a private enthusiast, would be smart to let designers bring their creative powers to bear on the question, after all—it’s their business to assemble a design brief into a unified form.
“I take inspiration from many places knowingly or unknowingly,” Øino says. “I think we’re influenced by what we see and experience every day: It could be other boats or ships; it could be buildings; it could be nature, could be cars; it could be houses; it could be plants or animals; it could be anything to be honest. I think when you’re a designer you’re really very observant—you have to be. You’re either that way by birth or not. I think you’re naturally curious and observant and you often use or make use of some things you’ve seen in the past, putting it in a different context.”
Other designers would agree. Just ask Tim Heywood, who worked on Pelorus, Al Mirqab, Topaz, Dilbar, and other yachts on the list. “I find inspiration all around me, from the curve of a stem to the angle of a bridge support,” he says. “Always keep your eyes wide open and really try to see everything from a different direction.” It’s an artful incorporation of various concepts into a unified whole that is the designer’s challenge. “I think the most rewarding is the ‘belt line’ inspired by the hull armor plating of an old war ship,” Heywood says. “This sweeping feature breaks down the mass of the hull in an interesting and unique way. It has become a signature feature of mine.” Heywood has in the past credited the HMS Belfast, a light cruiser moored off London’s Imperial War Museum, as a key influence in his design of Pelorus.
Just like clients, designers bring to the discussion their favorites, combinations of features that came together and created something greater than the sum of their parts. “Mogambo is up there as one of my favorites as it is a very cohesive modern design inside and out,” says Andrew Langton of the design firm Reymond Langton, who with his partner Pascale Reymond has worked on such yachts as Serene, Orchid, Valerie, and others. “Although working very closely with the owner we were given a free reign for this yacht as it was being built to sell and the result is more of an expression of ourselves than most other projects we have made. Pascale is torn between Serene, the new Kismet, and the new Mondango...We do have a Lürssen project being delivered later this year which will be our new favorite!” And while the influence of past work looms large, the challenge is to grow the medium in new and exciting directions.
“We have had quite a few surprising concepts,” Langton says. “On one particular yacht we included a snow room in the spa, a glass-bottomed submarine room, a private delicatessen next to the galley, and a double-height atrium dining room, in addition to the helicopter hangar and indoor swimming pool. We have another design currently in build, which will have the most unique and surprisingly immense interior feature of any yacht ever built, but for now I can’t say more.”
And there we are, so quickly back to the secrecy and confidentiality.
Working with a designer is similar to what superyacht clients do in other facets of their lives: They wield this creative mind as a tool to achieve their ends, be it snow rooms or private delicatessens or armored-looking belt lines. But that designer’s creative mind is also good not just at generating the idea, but it can also convey it in a way that the concept is quickly understood and absorbed.
“Designing boats is all about managing compromise, because whatever you do is a compromise,” Øino says. “If you want to go fast, you need a bigger engine room. If you cannot increase overall length then the cabins need to be smaller or you need to have fewer of them, for example. I would like to compromise indoor space for more outdoor space because, particularly in the Med, you really spend all your time awake outside and I don’t think designs today necessarily reflect that.”
To get his point across Øino uses the tools at hand to bring the client aboard. “They’re smart people,” he says. “What helps a lot is the 3-D modeling today. We have incredible tools that make things easier. Many people find it challenging to interpret two-dimensional drawings and extrapolate that into three dimensions. Three-dimensional modeling tools and photorealistic renderings make it much easier to show them the outside spaces. It’s really very close to reality.”
And that’s what makes superyachts different from art, and better: Reality. Whether it’s the gentle breeze wafting across a shaded cockpit, sun-warmed teak beneath your bare feet on the swim platform, the humming, gleaming efficiency of the engine room, or the feat of crossing oceans as a matter of course. Reality is the commodity here. Just don’t tell anyone.