All aboard: starchitects’ superyachts

As Dubai International Boat Show kicks off, Vision considers the new era of 'superyachts'

More than 26,000 visitors are expected to attend the Dubai International Boat Show at the Dubai International Marine Club this week, and those in the market for the biggest boats – the superyachts – will come expecting style as well as size.

Superyachts spend more time moored in the world's most exclusive ports than sailing the high seas, and to perform their role as the ultimate status symbol they need to look the part.

This is why many of the world's top yacht builders call on superstar architects such as Zaha Hadid, Renzo Piano and Foster+Partners to design their most exclusive vessels. If you're paying for a palace on water, it makes sense to have a great architect at the helm of the design process.

Perhaps the most spectacular recent starchitect-designed boat is Zaha Hadid Architects’ proposed 128 metre yacht for German manufacturer Blohm+Voss. Inspired by fluid dynamics and underwater ecosystems, the design features a hull with an organic skeletal structure that wraps around the various levels and decks.

“As a dynamic object that moves in dynamic environments, the design of a yacht must incorporate additional parameters beyond those for architecture – which all become much more extreme on water,” Hadid said of the highly engineered hydrodynamic form.

If the flamboyant and futuristic look of Hadid’s design seems a bit much, you might prefer the simple but sporty lines of British firm Foster+Partners’ Ocean series for superyacht company YachtPlus. The 41-metre vessels are designed to accommodate 12 guests and 7 crew in a comfortable interior featuring large windows and a glass spiral staircase that lets in plenty of light.

The 80-metre yacht that Apple’s late founder Steve Jobs was collaborating on with French designer Philippe Starck prior to his death in 2011 also has a more restrained and elegant aesthetic. Its slick white surfaces are typical of Apple’s hardware, while the glass walls enclosing the living spaces are reminiscent of those used at its famous stores. “Steve and I shared the same idea about the elegance of the minimal, the elegance of work well done,” Starck told the BBC when the boat was unveiled in 2012.

Achieving the optimum result when designing these spectacular craft requires a strong alliance between architect, client and manufacturer to ensure style and seaworthiness are accounted for in equal measure. With the premium boat-building industry experiencing a surge in growth, particularly in the UAE which has risen to ninth among the world’s most productive superyacht manufacturing nations, it’s inevitable that there will be plenty more architects hopping on board this trend in the coming years.