Cruise ship design for the human scale

YSA Design's Trond Sigurdsen suggests how to design interiors that attract guests 

Cruise ship design for the human scale
YSA Design uses artwork to enhance ship interiors, such as on Holland America Line's Koningsdam

By Guest |

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Spring/Summer 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Achieving economies of scale when outfitting a cruise ship is compelling, but creating a vessel that is simply ‘one of the crowd’ can have negative implications. From an architectural perspective, a shipowner must balance the need to secure bottom-line revenue with the need to create a cruise experience that makes guests feel comfortable, relaxed and special.

Today, shipowners consider the details of cruise brand identity and passenger demographics so carefully at the initial project briefing stage that they can be used to determine the entire design and build process. According to Trond Sigurdsen, chairman of cruise ship design and architecture company YSA Design, the initial briefings given to his team are based on the customer’s quantitative and qualitative research of its potential audience and brand perception. However, to convert this brief into a viable cruise ship attraction, YSA Design must find elegant, yet practical, design solutions.

“Like anything creative, the design process can be emotional, but initially it involves an intellectual study so the designer can understand the client and where they want to go with their cruise brand,” says Sigurdsen. “YSA Design has developed its own recognisable style, but each client demands a different approach. For example, the brand briefing defines styling – whether classic, modern, adventure, innovative or futuristic. We also maintain diversity in our design teams to match the right group with each project so that the result is always distinctive.”

YSA Design uses building information modelling (BIM) and Revit CADCAM software and provides 3D ship walk-through simulations. Not only do these solutions enable the client to visualise their vessel, but they are also useful for the shipyard and for helping YSA Design to manage subcontractors onsite.

The first aspect of design that must be formally agreed between the client and YSA Design is the passenger cabins. Cabin specifications go a long way to establishing the cruise experience, but their precedence in project management reflects their place as the first industrialised building process, where prefabricated units slot into a steel frame, the specifications of which partly define the ship design.

“Cabin width provides the ‘grammar’ for the ship construction, so to speak,” says Sigurdsen, explaining that all the public spaces and onboard attractions are then devised within these parameters. “However, it is in the public spaces where we really develop the ‘narrative’ of the ship and find the solutions that tell the story of how it matches the desires of those onboard.”

To convert the remaining design ideas into physical spaces, YSA Design’s team must continuously manage the relationship between brand imperatives, the realities of shipbuilding and the subcontracted craftsmen.

Recently, YSA Design has developed various complex spaces for cruise ships. They include LEGO-themed interiors; dedicated zones for passengers in certain age groups within seamless flow-through areas; and an Aqua Park with open and enclosed spaces, bridges, adventure trails, slides, two zip lines and a basketball court.

However, standout features like these only work well if they are part of the overall design ‘story’ that has been developed for the ship. Fresh stories are needed for vessels that are designed to meet the tastes of Asian cruisers, younger audiences or adventurers seeking the expedition experience. These trends are changing the through-build process in key areas.

Dining, for example, has changed significantly. The group dining experience of yesteryear has been replaced by more intimate and exclusive experiences that are in line with guests’ expectations that menus will be à la cârte, exotic, include fusion options and even produce local to destinations.

All of this demands greater diversity and originality in interior design and requires designers to have additional knowledge on guest flow and service logistics. At the same time, they must manage quality control on fixtures and fittings closely, ensuring that subcontractors meet strict installation standards set by restaurateurs whose background often lies in fine dining ashore. The exclusive ambience might require waiter stations to be camouflaged as design features, for example, or subcontractors may need to use materials to dampen sound, such as upholstery, curtains, carpets, fixed furnishings and more.

“The format of the restaurant is also a fast-changing aspect of cruise ship design,” says Sigurdsen. “Millenials, for example, may be more at home on ‘Market Street’, devouring their gourmet tastes in ‘pop-up’ urbanity, where noise can even be part of the attraction.”

Expectations of ‘human scale’ experiences are also bringing new design ideas to shipboard theatres, where surround audio-visual effects are allowing audiences to lose themselves in immersive entertainment. Technologies such as LED walls are becoming part of the show, displacing conventional props. While specialised firms are stretching the art of the possible when it comes to special effects, they are working hand-in-hand with YSA Design to ensure that ship spaces can take full advantage.

The sustainability imperative is also changing the cruise experience. In an industry where reputation is everything, cruise lines must demonstrate that the materials cruise guests come into contact with are sourced sustainably. “I’d say that one of the overlooked green benefits of digitalisation is that it brings precise inventory management of materials, including weight and quantity,” says Sigurdsen. “That is something that touches every aspect of sustainable shipbuilding and ship maintenance.”

However, passengers increasingly expect sustainability to be part of the cruising experience itself. YSA Design now routinely designs interiors with solar panels to provide auxiliary energy sources or offers ideas for gym bikes to convert legwork into energy for charging smartphones. Sigurdsen says designers will increasingly be expected to deliver greater diversity on details perceived at the ‘human scale’, and that meeting these needs will demand intensifying the design role throughout the building and subcontractor management processes.

“It is said that over 85% of cruise passengers are college or university graduates, for example,” he explains. “These are people who need intellectual stimulation as well as relaxation. An area of increasing interest to me has been the introduction of curated art as part of the cruise experience. We design for the human scale because people don’t want to be one of the herd, and nor do they leave their minds on the dockside.”

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