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September 2002

Article selected from our quarterly magazine dedicated to the largest and most luxurious boats with information, interviews, technical articles, images and yachting news



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Article by
Carlo Nuvolari Duodo


Yacht design is a concept that is very hard to pin down, especially now that the empirical and heroic methods of traditional boat building are confronted both with the consolidated experience of naval architecture and with equally firmly established trends in the design process conceived as the science of forms. Today's yacht designer is a profession which can only be practised by a team of experts. This applies in particular to super yachts, where everything is on a large scale, including the difficulties.

    An example of proportions that are out of kilter. The same boat pictured from the bow and the stern: it is evident that the yacht is far more attractive when seen from the bow, but this has impaired her stern view

A stern with a gothic (horror) cathedral effect

Two boats with shaded areas, one obtained by painting and the other through the use of the forms

A new boat with a strong, assertive personality
The exterior of a mega-yacht is paramount to her success because it's her distinguishing feature and the key to her enduring appeal. When you design a medium-sized leisure vessel your approach is more akin to planning a motor vehicle since you'll be able to see all of the boat at the same time, simply by walking around her; when it comes to mega yachts, you need to pay the utmost attention to the proportions, just as if you were creating a large building or ship. Paying attention to the proportions means the yacht must have the same visual impact and convey the same impression no matter what side you look at her from. This may seem to be stating the obvious yet the sea is full of yachts that are out of proportion and this is not hard to explain; in terms of conceptual design you need considerable skill and the capacity to reconcile fundamental technical and constructional demands with purely architectural elements. Few people are able to achieve this with elegance.

It's necessary to constantly bear in mind the three dimensional nature of the object and never let yourself be seduced by one particular view.

It's hard to resist the temptation to do this and even Dan Lenard and I are often sucked in by the allure of the bow. A high, raked, aggressive bow is perfect - synonymous with power, it meets the demands of the naval architect, appeals to the vanity of the designer and blends in easily with the view of the side of the yacht, which resembles a sports car.

You need to fight off the temptation so that you avoid the pitfalls when it comes to the stern.

A lovely stern view is generally the hardest to achieve because these yachts are very tall for structural reasons and, although they are actually very broad as well, they can sometimes end up unfortunately looking rather like gothic cathedrals. Additionally, the area aft is packed with functional elements entailing practical constraints: stern doors, stairways and ladders, gangways, mooring lines, all of which clash with the harmonious forms required by owners.

An ugly stern or one that is simply poorly balanced is one of the defects that I hate the most; it reduces assertiveness and generates a sense of insecurity. So the worst thing you can do is get the stern wrong without managing to mask the height.

Let's be honest: the stern is the most visible part of the yacht so you really must get it right!

Certain details sometimes reveal the failure to pay due attention to the view from the side of the yacht, which is actually the easiest to devise. One example is the use of vast dark coloured bands or of dummy portholes made using painted areas.

Resorting to this stratagem means that the yacht will immediately be branded as "wanting in exterior architecture", that - due to his lack of other ideas and failure to create interesting forms - the designer has tried to make a modest boat seem "sleek" when in fact she often looks more like a bus.

The dark areas are vital as they control the visual image that's conveyed of the height of the vessel, they make her appear more "sporty" and accentuate her roundness, thus avoiding the "apartment block facade" effect that you sometimes get when you're walking next to a mega yacht. These darkened parts, which are so important in giving character to the boat, should be created by using the areas of shade provided by the architectural forms, not by means of painting.

All this attention paid to the exterior may seem excessive. After all, don't all large yachts appear to be expressions of beauty and dynamic elegance? Yes, they do - when they're new.

But there's a special, infallible test to detect whether a design is really a success or simply an average yacht: the test of time.

Only a quality vessel can stand the test of time. Time will ruthlessly and inexorably expose the defects of old boats and separate the class yacht from the mediocre: the former will seem more and more beautiful and be remembered as a "classic" while the mediocre will become uglier and uglier and be regarded by boaters as "hard to sell" or "a collector's item" or "for the niche market", when she's really just plain passé.

This is invariably the case both with large yachts and with small boats, so when we're designing the forms of a yacht our main concern is to ask ourselves the question: how will the market consider this boat in ten years' time?

It's got nothing to do with personal vanity. The goal is to protect the value of the boat and the investment of her manufacturer.

Mega yachts require a massive outlay so an essential component in the design process, which goes beyond issues of elegance, structural solidity, sound shipbuilding practice and the pedigree of the shipyard, is definitely the boat's longevity on the market, i.e. her ability to retain as much of her value as possible and remain a classic.

While you may be able to protect a small boat by capitalising on the famous "secured investment" effect (even though it's often not secure at all), by purchasing a well-known brand, this is not the case with mega yachts, where the name of the builder is less important, and what really counts is the value of what you're buying - the yacht herself.

This explains why you often encounter brand new mega yachts whose design is slightly out of date. They're known as classics. Their design should theoretically reassure the market.

I don't believe that this is actually the case. Would you buy a nondescript car or, worse still, a replica? A yacht must be exquisitely styled and state of the art because she should reflect the personality of her buyer or, actually, have her own personality which needs to be created with unswerving commitment. This means being innovative without violating the boundaries imposed by discipline and practical considerations; succeeding in achieving this is precisely the challenge that distinguishes good designs from mediocre ones.

If we really want a yacht which is based on a classic, we should design her so that she conveys this "impression" but is not in fact a copy. After all, all those splendid yachts of the past that we now call classics were originally deemed ultramodern and innovative.