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Why do the classification societies pass some of the more extreme forms of design, particularly those that are potentially dangerous? Phil Draper can't understand them.

JULY 2004

If something looks great but is unsuited to its purpose, does that make it good design or bad design? Or does it simply become art, in which case it is neither good nor bad and appreciation of it lies solely with the beholder?
I believe in the old design adage ‘form follows function’, so instinctively I would argue if it is more art than design when there is supposed to be an ergonomic element to it, then it is very probably bad design. But it is not always easy to pigeonhole such things quite so cleanly. Complexities arise when you find yourself actually appreciating the aesthetics, even though one may damn the practicalities and purpose.
I was faced with this good design/bad design dilemma recently when writing up a motoryacht test for one of the other magazines I contribute to regularly, Boat International. The yacht in question was the first of Azimut’s new semi-custom flagship 116s TV. Now outwardly and inwardly this model is a fine motoryacht, built by one of the most impressive boatbuilding operations in the world, Azimut-Benetti. The quality is there, she performs well, and the interior spaces provided work beautifully. But this first one boasted an interior decorated by a Mexican terrestrial architect that was engaged by that yacht’s commissioning owners. What they wanted of him was a similar interior for their new yacht as they had in their houses and offices ashore. The style in designer jargon was all about ‘linearity and essentiality’. To those of us not so well versed in this idiom, we’re talking very contemporary — ‘loft’ or ‘warehouse apartment’ is what they’d label it ahsore; all fairly minimalist stuff with warm shades, low furniture and lots of sharp corners. Warm shades I can handle. My beef is with the low furniture, minimal handholds and all the pointy bits!

“I believe in the old design adage ‘form follows function’, so instinctively I would argue if it is more art than design when there is supposed to be an ergonomic element to it, then it is very probably bad design!” 

A few years ago I did a test on a 34m (112ft) or so Baglietto called My Space that was even more extreme. That highly competent and extremely high quality planing motoryacht was compromised by an interior styled by one of the all-time greats, the artist and industrial designer Getulio Alviani, who is close to being a household name in Italy. Just about everything aboard that one was silky grey or white — from the low-slung furniture to the flat panels throughout, the reveals of which all lined up throughout. It might have looked simple, but apparently it was more difficult to do that minimalist scheme than any other. Certainly the staircase that doglegged down from the main deck to the guest accommodation was more sculpture than a practical means of ascent and descent. There wasn’t any kind of banister, just a thin handrail on one wall and the kind of corners that could take an eye out should anyone in the guest corridor trip and fall into them. Moreover, the short flight from the bridge to the flying bridge was flanked by a couple of incredibly sharp corners and those are the stairs that would be used come what may on delivery trips, when the worst weather is likely to be encountered.
How can this sort of thing be right for a floating habitat - never mind a working environment for the crew?
If I were the captain of either of these yachts, when the owners were away I would not allow crew into guest areas at all when underway in anything other than a flat calm and I would keep all the nasty bits taped up with padding until the owners arrived back!
At this end of the market owner whim is the main driver of any semi-custom or custom project and to expect a yacht builder to risk turning clients away over issues like these would be naïve in the extreme. The yards need their clients, no matter how crazy some of their notions, so blaming them for turning out such environments is not fair. Often they try to talk their clients round. But ultimately no yard wants to risk turning away double-digit millions of euros if it can help it, so the customer in this semi-custom and custom yacht end of the spectrum is always right.
No. I do not blame the builders or even the designers responsible. But I do wonder what the classification societies are up to. Their job surely is to see that yachts take to the water in a safe and seaworthy condition, which should not only be about keeping the elements out, but also keeping some of the more dangerous art out too!

© Phil Draper