The work of Foster + Partners is synonymous with innovation, inspiration and intelligence, three key elements of the programme at this year’s SuperyachtDESIGN Week. David Nelson, senior partner and head of design at the internationally renowned architectural and design studio, will deliver the compelling opening keynote session at SuperyachtDESIGN Week, held from 23 to 25 June at Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour in London. The Superyacht Owner spoke to David about his upcoming session.

TSO: What project have you found most challenging?

David Nelson: Those with the most – and those with the least – constraints. 

TSO: What is your design philosophy?

DN: To question everything, to research and to use this understanding as the basis to innovate and develop new solutions.

SYD: The overarching theme of SuperyachtDESIGN Week is Living Architecture, what does this mean to you?

DN: Whether we are designing spaces for work, rest or play, architecture is about people – everything we do is concerned with meeting their needs, and creating the elegant, flexible spaces that can support their lifestyle and aspirations.

SYD: What can guests of SuperyachtDESIGN Week expect from your session?

DN: The session is called ‘Distractions’, because in a sense that is what our yacht commissions can be. While Foster + Partners’ work is very varied, our core activities tend to be architecture, engineering, urban masterplans and design – we are not dedicated yacht designers. However, in my talk, I intend to show how these commissions always turn out to be productive distractions, as they allow us to pioneer new technologies and ideas. For example, our motor yacht Izanami led to the development of an electric vehicle for Kew Gardens, and our YachtPlus fleet was the first project to make use of in-house 3D printing.

We work in collaboration with established naval architects and boatyards, often learning the language of yacht design as we go – one of the advantages of the certain amount of naiveté we bring is the opportunity to look afresh at some of these design challenges. I will present the yachts that we have designed, from the recent Alen Yacht day boat and Panthalassa sailing yacht to our fleet for YachtPlus, as well as much earlier projects with our client Mr Akao. Examining these in the context of our wider portfolio of architectural and design projects, from wind turbines to vehicles, I will also explain how they utilise our in-house expertise in engineering, environmental analysis, computer and physical model-making, geometry and industrial design, as well as many other specialist disciplines.



TSO: What is your creative process?

DN: It is a process of listening, asking questions, analysis and collaboration – ideas can be sparked by many different people and sources. 

TSO: What/who inspires your designs?

DN: The needs, desires and ambitions of the people that will ultimately own, use and look after our projects.

TSO: Do you prefer to design something from scratch? Or work from an existing structure to make it anew?

DN: It depends on many different factors. There are opportunities in both types of project, although there are certainly environmental benefits in breathing new life into existing building stock. We have developed a clear methodology for the treatment of historic structures, such as the Reichstag in Berlin or London’s British Museum – this has always been an important strand of our work and, incidentally, is the subject of a new book ‘Building with History’ by Paul Goldberger.

TSO: Your own work aside, what architectural structure do you admire the most?

DN: Architecture that has a timeless quality, which transcends fashion. It is very hard to choose just one, but London’s terraced housing is a good local example of flexibility and enduring appeal. Whether Victorian or Georgian, these buildings have been successfully adapted to provide modern family homes, sub-divided into individual apartments, or even converted into offices.

David Nelson is the opening keynote at this year’s SuperyachtDESIGN Week. View the full programme here and to register your place at this event, click here.

SuperyachtDESIGN Week is proudly sponsored by

Gold level: Awlgrip and Blohm+Voss. Silver level: Clyde & Co. Bronze level: Heirlooms, RINA and SA Baxter.