In conversation with cruise ship design legend Joe Farcus

Joe Farcus helped Carnival Cruise Line to kickstart a new era of cruising with his first full ship design in the 1970s. Jon Ingleton asks him about his illustrious career

In conversation with cruise ship design legend Joe Farcus
Farcus uses lighting, colour and different surfaces to bring venues to life onboard ships like Costa Cruises' Costa Fascinosa (Image: Costa Croiciere)

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

Joining the cruise business
My first experience of designing cruise ship interiors came in 1975 when my boss Morris Lapidus appointed me as a project manager and architectural space planner for Carnival Cruise Line’s second vessel, T.S.S. Queen Anna Maria. During the project, I created Carnival’s first theatre and, with the help of contractors, completed the refurbishment in three weeks. I learned valuable lessons that were fundamental to my later success, such as the basics of ship construction and the importance of collaborating with the captain and crew.

Most importantly, Ted Arison [Carnival’s founder] got to know me as an architect with a can-do attitude and just over a year later, he asked me to convert his third ship, Transvaal Castle, into T.S.S. Festivale, which allowed me to open my own studio and kickstart my shipbuilding career. Our close personal and professional relationship lasted more than 40 years until Ted passed away and has extended to his son, Micky Arison.

Design briefs
I’ve been very lucky to be trusted with carte blanche by shipowners like Ted and Micky Arison and former Costa Cruises’ executive Pier Luigi Foschi. We shared the same respect for customers, and they all recognised me as an artist, so they didn’t feel the need to micromanage design. The success of this method speaks for itself.

Following design trends
My university architectural education taught me that, while it’s important to appreciate the work of others, artists must create what they feel, rather than following what has been done by others. Consequently, I’ve never tried to keep up with current trends; I simply created ships that I wanted to sail on and chose whatever high-quality products and materials would amplify my designs. However, I’ve been influenced by nature, design evolution through the ages and all forms of the arts. Ultimately, I always strived for craftsmanship, professionalism and a very personal expression derived deep from within my soul.

Collaboration and partnerships
No one can create a ship on their own and I’ve been very lucky to have worked with accomplished designers, architects, shipbuilding and outfitting professionals, turnkey contractors and product suppliers. There are too many to name individually, but they all helped me to gain the confidence, skills and experience to continually improve and push my designs to new limits. We always created a spirit of cooperation and understanding – and had a lot of fun in the process. If one naval architect were to stand out, it would be someone who always shared my design sensitivities: Maurizio Cergol, senior vice president of Marketing and New Concept Development at Fincantieri. His ships were graceful, beautiful and, most of all, they looked like ships.

Industry evolution
When I first started designing for Carnival, it was considered a low-class cruise brand for rowdy party people and that notion rubbed off on my work and reputation. Back then, the few cruise ships that were considered high class followed the old style of understated elegance, but they offered a boring passenger experience. The multiplicity of my designs on T.S.S. Festivale made the ship itself the destination for the first time, and this concept eventually took over the industry. I’m not surprised because my designs were based on a true understanding of the needs and desires of passengers seeking a fun holiday.

Most significant ship
My first vessel, T.S.S. Festivale, completely changed the concept of cruising. When cruising first evolved as a holiday concept, the ports and destinations were the raison d’etre and the onboard experience was limited to playing quoits, reading in deck chairs, watching amateur crew shows and dining on bouillon. Cruising was a product that appealed to affluent and older travellers who had time and money. In the 1970s, Ted Arison developed Carnival with the idea of making cruising a year-round popular holiday option for everyone. I was able to foresee what major changes I should make to T.S.S. Festivale to bring Ted’s concept to life and elevate it to a new level. She was the first modern cruise ship and her delivery prompted the start of Carnival’s ongoing meteoric growth, as well as a sea change in the entire cruise industry.

Favourite design
I honestly can’t pick a favourite space because every room plays an important role in the overall design of a ship – it would be like choosing between your children! Having said that, the theatre onboard Costa Cruises’ Costa Deliziosa is high on my list, hence why it’s featured on the cover of my new book, Design on the High Seas. Although the theatre looks wonderful on the cover, like all of my designs, the only way to truly appreciate the beauty, lighting and ambience of the space is to stand it in for yourself.

Memorable moments
My first meeting at [Italian shipbuilder] Fincantieri’s office was both amusing and intimidating. My wife and I were shown into a conference room with a very long table and we watched as Fincantieri team members armed with notepads slowly filled two rows of chairs and all the edges of the room until it was completely full. We’d never experienced such a mismatch in numbers at a meeting and we were worried that if everyone from Fincantieri spoke, we’d be there for hours. Thankfully, only one person spoke and the meeting finished quickly. After our initial shock wore off, we laughed about it and I never had a meeting like that again during the rest of my career – I guess people just wanted to get a look at the new designers who were potentially going to cause them headaches!

Proudest achievement
The most fulfilling moment of my career was when my wife Jeanne christened Carnival Fascination in 1994. Her speech prior to releasing the champagne bottle was poignant and could have only been spoken by a person whose life was inextricably tied to the ship’s design and construction. The words resonated deeply with the ship’s captain and crew, the teams at the shipyard and Carnival, and of course, with me.

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By Rebecca
02 July 2019

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