Architects have been intertwined in the yacht industry for over a decade now and that has unequivocally altered the perception and result of it. With some of the biggest names in architecture like Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, Piero Lissoni and even Frank Gehry having dabbled in yacht design. Their impact goes beyond just the aesthetic component, although this has been monumental. The alteration of the superficial aspects through modern technology and software has created a push for the entire industry to keep up. This has led to some of the most outrageous concept designs becoming a reality, but also has ignited a hunger within the clientele of these grand yachts. Which over the last two decades has also shifted to a younger tech billionaire type. Both this shift that architects have created in the industry and the shift in society that is heavily linked to advancements in technology, has ultimately changed the scope of yacht design forever.
For the last two years there has been a surge of clients seeking superyachts that are of the explorer vessel type. Meaning they want the hull of the boat to be made of steel and classed as an icebreaker. This would allow clients to go to remote places and traverse the high latitude areas of the world. Accompanying the explorer vessel trend is one that involves scientific research being conducted on these explorations. Clients are now fitting out these explorer superyachts with more accommodation and labs to house scientists that can conduct research whilst holidaying in these remote places. A big driving factor for this is global warming, which is why these clients are now also wanting these vessels to be hydrogen fueled, methane fueled, solar and battery operated, self sufficient yachts.
Although now this trend is hard for any yacht builder to ignore, Sinot Yacht and Architecture Design firm was one of the first to release a fully hydrogen fueled superyacht with specifications and engineering to match. The yacht’s name is Acqua and the concept was finished in 2019. The design gathered a lot of traction and went viral with a rumour that it was designed for Bill Gates the tech billionaire. A rectifying article was soon released by Sinot to amend this information, but that didn’t slow down the speed at which this concept gained interest. Although it is yet to be bought and constructed, this design lifted the bar adding to an increasingly popular trend. Sinot has become a front runner of yacht design and more so since the release of M/Y Acqua. His design ethos is closely tied to using modern technology and advancing that through yacht design. At the same time they keep environmental impact at the forefront of every design “Water is the eternal fuel of life, the life-sustaining force that makes planet Earth habitable,” says Sander Sinot the founder of Sinot when he asked about Acqua.
A yacht like the one that Sinot and his team have engineered has not yet been built, but there are an increasing number of hybrid yachts that have. Nobiskrug the leading yacht builders in Germany completed the superyacht Artefact in 2020. They described it themselves as “the perfect marriage of art and science through ground-breaking architectural design and innovative engineering” and although the outside is relatively unique, it is the internal workings that are most impressive. Although it is classed as a hybrid vessel, Artefact can be fully functional through the batteries onboard that store the energy collected from its solar panels. It was also the world’s first superyacht to meet IMO Tier III emissions regulations and recycles all of its own water using an onboard system. Artefact is a great example of seeing the impact that an environmentally driven client can have on the result of the product. An impact that gave precedents and the final push to the yachting industry to keep up with the trend and go eco-friendly.
On the twentieth of October in 2020 Oceanco, one of the top yacht building companies in the world, unveiled its vision for the future. This was their subsidiary Oceanco NXT, which is comprised of a group of visionaries in their fields of yachting, technology and design. Their aim is to “marry innovation and sustainability in an authentic and meaningful way that will transform how we spend time on superyachts” as said by them. As a company they believe like many do that the progression of the yachting industry has been stagnant for some time and it needs to progress quickly to catch up with not only other industries, but also to meet what modern society demands. Oceanco believes “it takes a visionary yacht builder alongside a nonconformist owner to forge such new pathways in the industry”. The overall goal for them was stated as wanting to have a zero emissions future and their yachts to have zero impact.
But it’s not just yacht building companies that are taking this step, Revocean is a non-for-profit company with the purpose and ambition “to make the ocean healthy again” as they stated. Established in 2017 by Norwegian businessman Kjell Rokke, Revocean really started to gain recognition and traction in the last two years when marine biologist Nina Jensen became the CEO. The company believes that through a focused strategy we are able to reverse the damage done to the ocean and the planet. A part of this mission includes Revocean owning an expedition research superyacht.
The Revocean vessel was designed by Espen Oino with H2 Yacht design and built by VARD shipyards. At 183 meters in length it is the world’s largest superyacht. It contains “state-of-the-art equipment and on board labs, a moon pool, a research hanger and room for 90 people on board at any one time”. Although being the largest superyacht in the world, the intention of this boat is a pure one. Jensen doesn’t see it as a luxury but a means to an end, saving the ocean. There are luxury cabins on board that are available to those who can afford to charter the boat, and any profit from this is injected back into the company for research purposes “there has been tremendous interest and enthusiasm to participate in some kind of ‘yachting with purpose’,” explains the yacht relations manager at Revocean. Some of the project partners include WWF and the UN Environment Programme, which helps to strengthen Revoceans cause and credibility for the project.
With so much traction and already hundreds interested in booking a charter without the superyacht even being completed, you can only imagine it wouldn’t be too long before another like it would be on the horizon. Que the Earth 300 project, a 300 meter long vessel that is packed with 22 laboratories on board and is able to carry 450 people. If that wasn’t enough it has also been engineered to be a nuclear-powered vessel. Aaron Oliviera, the chief executive, is an entrepreneur that “wants to build an awe-inspiring object that will galvanise public interest in climate change”.
The vessel is to be equipped with the latest technology boasting artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning and real time data processing. It will also house the first ocean-going quantum computer to be able to handle the large amount of data it will be collecting. All of this is planned to be powered by Molten Salt Reactors which will provide complete clean energy to the vessel. Accommodation is split for 160 scientists, 20 experts in residence, 20 students, 165 crew and 40 VIP guests. Those VIP guests are also a part of a broader scheme to fund the entire vessel. With 2025 being the estimated completion year, Oliviera is still going through the funding process only having released the concept in March this year. But it will be these exclusive VIP guest rooms and guest experience that will fund the money required to house the other academic guests on board. At least this is the current initiative and seems to be becoming a trend within the industry.
For as long as the superyacht industry has been around it has obviously thrived through the wealth of the richest people in the world. This has provided the world with a booming industry that because of its clientele has made it resilient through times of economic hardship and in doing so kept its employees’ working. Although this highlights an ugly truth that the rich keep getting richer no matter the economic circumstance, in the last two years many in the industry are no longer succumbing to this. Rather they are using it as a tool to sublimate the industry and focus on higher ethical concerns. Which is now being funded and supported by the younger generation of tech billionaires, who are hungry for more than a private floating hotel experience. All of these factors combined with the rapid advancements in technology creates a future prospect that looks vastly different from the yachting industry we see today. Clean energy, clean ocean and higher purpose all seem to be on the agenda, but like all trends it may or may not last. Nevertheless it will be exciting to see how it evolves and how the role of an architect or designer will alter with it.