U.S. Navy photo

Ever since its launch in 2008, the iconic motoryacht A designed by Philippe Starck has polarised opinion as the one we either love or love to hate. Following her delivery, Starck—who is no stranger to controversy and made an entertaining keynote speaker at GSF 2012—told this author in a telephone interview how he came up with the basic concept in just a few hours during a sleepness night, describing the provocative shape as “the elegance of intelligence.”

When images of the 119m motoryacht first appeared, a few sharp-eyed commentators pointed out that her exterior lines bore an uncanny resemblance to the Zumwalt-class of destroyers planned by the US Navy. The full extent of that resemblance became evident with the recent launch of the first 186m Zumwalt-class destroyer from the Bath Iron Works in Maine, a subsidiary of General Dynamics. Originally more than 30 such warships designed for littoral operations were envisaged, but spiralling costs led the build programme to be reduced to just three vessels. As with other last-generation navy vessels, the stealth-shape of the hull and superstructure significantly reduces the ship’s visibility to enemy radar.

Motoryacht A

Military design has long influenced yacht designers and Peter Buescher of Donald L Blount & Associates wrote on this very subject in SuperyachtDesign Q13, referring to the design of a fast patrol boat as an example of the market crossover. “There seems to be something inherently attractive, at least in contemporary styling trends, about the aggressive appearance of modern patrol boats that makes them desirable,” he reported. But the striking similarity between A and the new US Navy destroyer raises pertinent questions about the differences between innovation, inspiration and reproduction, not to mention the issue of intellectual property rights, which was the subject of a SuperyachtDESIGN Summit in 2010 and one close to the heart of any designer.

Philippe Starck

In Q15 of SuperyachtDesign, architect and yacht designer Luiz de Basto likened the superstructure of 80m Venus—another of Starck’s creations—to the Robie house in Chicago by Frank Lloyd Wright. Venus was temporarily impounded following a dispute over outstanding payments due to the designer, while A was involved in recent litigation when owner Andrey Melnichenko filed a multi-million dollar claim in a US court against a well-known paint manufacturer over an unsatisfactory paint job.

No one questions the massive impact Starck’s work has had on how superyachts could or should look, but even Jon Bannenberg was influenced by modernist architecture and there is not a yacht designer out there who hasn’t borrowed the odd cue from the automotive world. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the real innovator behind A’s exterior styling was the US Navy?

Related Links:
Philippe Starck
Donald L Blount & Associates
Luiz de Basto Designs