I admit, hoisting 2-litre steins of freshly-brewed Hacker-Pschorr while standing on benches with 5,000 other Oktoberfest denizens is not a bad day out of the office. But when your companions are Ralf Scheurer of German glazing firm seele, James O’Callaghan, one of the world’s leading structural glass engineers and Andreas Shipper and Lars Engel from GL Yachtverglasung, the yachting industry’s go-to team for top-shelf glass integration, no amount of Bavarian mirth could stop us all from talking about what the future holds for glass.

Some of the most exciting developments in the yachting world are happening outside of Munich at seele’s glass manufacturing facility. The firm, part of the seele sedak group of companies, is perhaps world’s leading expert in pushing the boundaries of what glass can do in both terrestrial construction as well as in yachting. Their development of new forms of structural, load-bearing glass in transparent staircases, roofs, walls and other structures—in part due to the genius of O’Callaghan’s structural engineering—has opened an entirely new set of possibilities in construction of buildings and yachts.

Requests for secrecy prevent us from discussing details of the marine projects seele and GL Yachtverglasung have worked on, but the two firms have partnered in the past with major structural glass works on the 147m Lürssen-built Topaz, on the recently-launched 79m Feadship Venus and they are working together again on another iconic yacht project in build in Northern Europe. Their collaboration is ongoing, and from what I saw, forms what appears to be a nexus of expertise for the yachting industry.

To get a sense of how these projects are going to change how we understand glass’ role in yacht design, consider the following three exhibits, from which I think any savvy yacht enthusiast can project the future of yacht design:

Exhibit A: The Apple Store cube, 5th Avenue, NYC

Apple's flagship retail store, Mark II, on 5th Avenue in New York City

Seele supplied the glass for the Apple store on 5th Avenue in New York City, as engineered by James O’Callaghan. The first version of the store, completed in 2006, pushed the limits of what could be done with glass at the time. In 2011, its 90 nearly seamless panes of glass were replaced by 15 panes of laminated, tempered glass, made and installed by seely in the incredible dimensions of 18m x 13.6m.

Exhibit B: Feadship yacht Venus

Venus at Feadship just after launch in 2012

Note the seamless surface of glass and hull

Now consider Venus, the yacht designed by Philippe Starck for Apple founder Steve Jobs and his family. Look at how glass was incorporated into the superstructure and into the hull. And in particular, observe how at the interface of hull and glass there appears to be no break in reflective surface. I haven’t had the privilege of inspecting the finished product yet, but recognizing the level of detail in the glass construction, its integration into the hull and the fact that the vessel is fully classed by Lloyd’s Register, I take this remarkable project by Feadship to be a very strong indication of where yacht design may be heading.

Exhibit C: Feadship’s 2013 concept yacht ‘Royale’

And as if to confirm all I came to understand about glass this week in Munich, Feadship launched their annual future concept design at the Monaco Yacht Show just a day after my return. And what a statement it is: Royale is the concept yacht that embraces a future in which structural glass will begin to overtake entire portions of the yacht’s hull. Look at these designs. Now look back at Venus. Venus already replaces an enormous strip of hull on either side of the yacht with strengthened and toughened glass. It replaces entire sections of superstreucture with glass. Now, with Royale, Feadship seems to be indicating that they’re willing to take clients even further.

What it means

As with all concepts, Royale is merely a suggestion, unbounded by the constraints of regulations or physics for that matter. But in Royale, I think what we’re seeing is a pioneering yard joining forces with a particular set of innovators—representatives from which I enjoyed a fantastic Monday evening in Munich this week—who together will prise open exciting new ways to design and manufacture the world’s finest examples of superior engineering and design.

In many ways, I think we should all pay homage to Steve Jobs. But as you look forward to what’s next in your yachting life, consider putting a little thought into the role that glass might play. And if you happen to be in Munich in October, I think you might know who to visit.

James O'Callaghan will form part of an expert panel presenting and discussing the seemingly endless possibilities with glass at this year's Global Superyacht Forum in Amsterdam (18-20 Nov). To register your place, please contact Suzie on suzie@thesuperyachtgroup.com or +44 207 801 1014.

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