Design perspective: Taking ships from paper to the seas

Developing new ships is challenging, but can be achieved with vision and plenty of collaboration
Design perspective: Taking ships from paper to the seas
MSC Cruises works with the shipyard and its external design partners to create detailed drawings of every onboard space before construction begins

By Antonio Di Nenno |

Designing and building a new cruise ship for MSC Cruises is always a formidable, but exciting, challenge. Not only must every ship be innovative, elegant and offer a unique and memorable guest experience, but each one must also be built and designed to meet specific safety, technical and budget requirements. MSC Cruises’ newbuild department, which is based in the UK, is responsible for managing the projects to design, develop and construct all new vessels in the company’s order book – and for maintaining and revitalising the whole fleet. To do this, we must liaise with our headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland to understand the vessel’s operational needs and what type of onboard experience we want to deliver to our future guests. We also work very closely with other technical departments and coordinate the development of the project with the relevant shipyard.

Initially, our newbuild department oversees what we call ‘The Platform’ of the vessel, working with the shipyard to outline the major operational needs, such as the required number of cabins, restaurants and other main features. As part of this, we analyse the floor plans to ensure that the guest flow between the different venues will work perfectly throughout a 24-hour period. We must do the same for the crew members to ensure they can easily carry out their tasks and operate the ship. At this stage, we also outline safety, technical and material restrictions.

Once the design for the main body of the ship has been agreed, we engage third-party designers to create the public areas and guest accommodation. To ensure they deliver a design concept that matches our vision for elegant and innovative ships, we provide the external designers with a very clear and detailed brief that includes a comprehensive list of the operational needs and technical constraints related to the steel structure. This is the phase where every single detail must be meticulously planned, designed and developed to ensure the ultimate in guest satisfaction.

MSC Cruises’ owners, the Aponte family, are heavily involved at this stage. The family’s Mediterranean maritime heritage spans some 300 years and plays an intrinsic role in our design philosophy, so they help with picking materials, colour schemes, furniture, fixtures and equipment to ensure the perfect MSC Cruises experience. We continue to work in partnership with the Aponte family throughout the entire process to ensure that their vision and our brand values are naturally incorporated into the design of every newbuild.

To ensure that every ship delivers the very best experience that MSC Cruises has to offer, we must also collaborate closely with all the designers, architects, contractors and other parties involved in the newbuild project. Everyone has different views and requirements, so we must try and accommodate these where possible. For example, some designers might want to remove pillars, bulkheads and structural elements to try and follow the design concept, but this can be challenging to do successfully as we must take technical and budgetary constraints into consideration before changing any elements. Ultimately, everyone is aiming for the same goal: to shape pieces of steel into a wonderful and unique ship that will deliver a great experience for our guests.

We’re currently following this process to build multiple new vessels including the Seaside Evo-class and luxury ships, which will be constructed by Fincantieri, and the Meraviglia Plus-class and World-class vessels, which will be built by Chantiers de l’Atlantique. My role is to ensure that the design and functionality of each ship class is impeccable and that all vessels showcase the very essence of the MSC Cruises’ brand and the Aponte family’s trademark blend of traditional elegance and innovative design.

Antonio Di Nenno is an architect director at MSC Cruises

This article was first published in the 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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