The form of a boat is more than just a line, area or volume; it only takes on meaning when it provides the functionof the boat with the value it deserves
by Francesco Michienzi
THERE ARE BOATS DESIGNED FOR LIVING ON, AND BOATS DESIGNED FOR SAILING. And there are boats designed for both living on and sailing at the same time. Nothing will shock you about this statement, but when I see the shape of some boats and yachts, I can only assume the owners of these vessels have never sailed in rough seas. They probably have no interest in experiencing the excitement of direct contact with the power of nature, and are happy to use the boat as a second home, to move wherever nature is currently at its finest – an isolated bay somewhere with uncontaminated sea, where they can enjoy the peace and quiet. This is all very well, but sometimes they will suddenly have to face a stormy sea, and that’s when the problems start. This is true for all types of boat, but I can’t help but smile when I see certain ships with a reverse bow for purely aesthetic reasons.
And it makes me wonder which comes first: form or function? Is function the mechanical result of the form, or, on the contrary, is the form merely a consequence of the function? In other words, what is the essence of a design: the architecture or the function?
There is no easy answer. Consider, for example, the Cenotaph for Newton, designed by French architect Etienne-Louis Boullée in 1783 in honour of Isaac Newton, the creator of the theory of gravity. The design of this structure, a sphere resting on stepped, cylindrical bases, is a utopian concept that challenges the law of gravity. However, as well as celebrating Newton’s genius, the ambition of this project also pushes architects not to be content with earthly, everyday things – to think that only the sublime is good enough.
This explains why some billionaires are not happy with a normal bow that allows them to sail in all conditions, and instead want to prove they have enough power to subvert even the laws of nature. These thoughts came to me, looking closely at a ship with its bow upside down, just before it was delivered to its owner. It is not the only example of a reverse bow – A is another, which also comes in a sailing version. The owner is so powerful, he can show the world it doesn’t matter whether his boat is an insult to good taste. Of course, aesthetics are a matter of personal opinion, but the reverse bow, aping those used by the US Marines in their warships, is not the best solution for sailing, even in the best of conditions.
Consider the numerous boats designed to travel at slow speeds with almost flat hulls, with no overhang at the bow and with corners as square as container ships. They’re fine for holding furniture, and living in comfort when at anchor, but they are not made for long voyages where one could run in to stormy seas. I guess we are living through a period in history that pushes us to seek peace and tranquillity, at least when we are on holiday.
I see a boat as something that can offer true excitement, whether sailing slowly and savouring the beauty of the nature around you and sunsets over the sea, or travelling at 50 knots, like on the Pershing 8X, which gives you goose bumps from the immense power you hold while steering a 67-tonne vessel.
The interaction, both literal and metaphorical, of the forces in play is more complex than it first appears. Designers have an ever-growing number of new and diverse forms available to them and, with increasing computer processing power and growing innovation in 3D design, forms no longer follow the austere ‘less is more’ philosophy of modernism – instead, postmodernism dictates that ‘less is a bore’. The ‘boring’ nature of minimalist designs has therefore been replaced by a wealth of shapes that can give the impression of opulence and originality. I like to think that form is clearly connected to the function and context in which appears, albeit with a high degree of freedom.
(When only sublime is good enough, the editorial by Franco Michienzi – Agosto 2019)