While for many naval architects, the finer points of aesthetics can seem far removed from the structural design process, when it comes to cruise ship design an optimised hull form is not a selling point. The cruise ship operator’s success is less contingent upon the speed and efficiency of passage than ensuring their guests’ experience is ‘special’ enough to inspire future bookings.
For Norwegian ship interior and exterior architects YSA Design it’s a process that typically begins when they are consulted shortly before the cruise operator signs a contract with the shipbuilder, according to Trond Sigurdsen, the company’s chairman. Indeed, one of the biggest challenges is becoming involved early enough to ensure the technical specifications for the accommodation and public areas have been given adequate forethought in the naval architect’s design.
He explains: “Good investment in the planning saves money and and improves the quality of the project, but not enough owners take that option. With many projects I’ve been involved with I’ve been looking at the spec the hour before they sign [with the shipyard] and there can be a whole list of problems that, if they don’t get them resolved before signing, will mean a lot of substantial extras. So it pays to get everybody involved and ensures the end result is more predictable.”
For the interior designer, the primary point of contact for any new project is the operator’s marketing department to ascertain what the target clientele is and what research has been conducted into these potential guests. “The most important thing for us is what they’re trying to convey,” says Sigurdsen. “When we worked on the Koningsdam and its two sister ships for Holland America Line (HAL) they wanted to go for a younger demographic, which meant a serious shift in design for the whole ship.”
YSA has a wide range of clients and with that comes the need for a variety of different design solutions, ranging from classical to minimalist, and requires a team including architects, designers and textiles specialists. Each cruise line has its own distinctive ambience and identity which is key in persuading passengers to repeat the experience time and again, yet at the same time wants to attract new guests.
Moreover, the cliched image of cruise passengers as blue-rinsed old ladies belongs to an earlier era. Figures published by the Cruise Lines International Association reveal that between 2002 and 2015 the average age of a cruise passenger dropped from 56 to 46. Some operators, such as MSC, pride themselves on catering for different groups on the same ship, so that families, older passengers and those looking for a more cultural experience all enjoy a cruise that’s customised to their particular predilections.
Passenger demands now increasingly extend beyond aesthetic considerations into ethical ones and questions of sustainability, particularly as regulations such as the Hong Kong Convention will require the demonstration of environmental responsibility in the materials selection and full inventorying of what has been used. “Teak decks, for example, are gone except on a few luxury cruise ships,” observes Sigurdsen, who stresses that a beautiful ship is also an efficient ship and not mere aesthetics. One respect in which this has impacted upon YSA Design’s creative ideas has been the integration of solar panels that can serve as auxiliary power sources.
Much of that green pressure comes from the younger generation, whose own preferences often lean towards the ‘realer’, less luxurious experiences offered by expedition ships. YSA Design has itself been consulted by shipyards in the tendering process for a number of such vessels and has several projects in various stages of development.
Other recent and ongoing projects include work for Disney Cruise Line and a steady stream of work from MSC, for which it made a significant contribution on the 2017-delivered MSC Seaside (see The Naval Architect, February 2018). “And of course we’re really happy to be working on the Venetian restaurant for the Costa Venezia, that’s a very special concept,” says Sigurdsen.
One particular area in which YSA Design has distinguished itself is in the integration of art into its designs, epitomised by HAL’s Nieuw Statendam. The 2,666-guest capacity ship, delivered in December 2018, has been furnished with more than 2,500 curated works from new and emerging artists. “To work with artists has been really refreshing because you have to give over control to somebody else,” says Sigurdsen. “It generates changes in the design to truly appreciate the impact of the artist.”