Last week, I attended the public unveiling of the first concept put forth by the Hamburg-based Blohm+Voss shipyard, designed in cooperation with the now icon-status architect and designer Zaha Hadid. Blohm+Voss, which famously delivered Roman Abramovich’s enormous Eclipse, as well as the more adventurous designs of A and Palladium, put forth six “buildable” versions of the design alongside a stunning render of the decidedly “unbuildable” asymmetric core concept. Hadid’s team has conjured a writhing whorl of a design that looks like a sinewy mass of elastic pulled into a roughly yacht-like form; as a concept, it ranks among the most adventurous ever offered, and it is recognizably Zaha Hadid: “Unique Circle” resides within her oevre as a familiar extension of the sci-fi aesthetic her studio generates with such success.

A close-up view of the Zaha Hadid prototype, showing its asymmetric design

But what of Blohm+Voss? This is a shipyard that until now has subsumed itself entirely to the design whims of their clients. As much as there is something recognized as Blohm+Voss quality of build, there is no Blohm+Voss style of vessel, no recognizable design that conveys to their clients that, “here sails a Blohm+Voss superyacht.” Which is why the yard’s decision to pair itself with a single designer is both bold and somewhat confusing. At the size and scale of complexity that Blohm+Voss construct yachts, and with the degree of design influence Zaha Hadid is expected to exercise, the concept can only reasonably be expected to lure a handful of potential clients.

Dr. Herbert Aly, the managing director of Blohm+Voss explained to me before the unveiling that with this concept, the shipyard is taking a pro-active approach to the market. Blohm+Voss is setting a design agenda and aligning their brand with the outstanding qualities of creativity, quality and inventiveness that seem so suited to Zaha Hadid’s output. It’s a tactic that places a lot of importance on the perception of art, architecture and design by superyacht clients. And there is ample reason to suspect that this approach should generate serious interest in the yard’s capabilities. Certainly, I hope it works for them. This kind of bold, assertive action on the part of full-custom Northern-European shipyards is rare (Feadship’s annual “future concept” is the notable exception), and I think should be applauded.

But will it sell? There are so few clients that could reasonably be expected to jump on this that the odds seem nearly even. This is not a mass market where a signature design collaboration drives sales by virtue of the desirability of the designer’s finished product, as with Karl Lagerfeld for H&M or Philippe Starck for Alessi. Building a superyacht is a multi-year collaboration, so in effect, with their exclusive cooperation agreement, Blohm+Voss is selling an interaction with themselves and Zaha Hadid’s studio. It’s a novel bit of marketing. And because the yard will continue its full-custom work, it retains its core identity as a flexible manufacturer of nearly anything a client might conceive; now just with the silvery, futuristic sheen of Zaha Hadid as a potential option.

My only criticism of the cooperation so far is the look of the six “buildable” models presented alongside the core concept. Aside from the fact that concepts are usually presented as a single iteration—the yard wants to sell a few of these, so the array was logical in that sense—none of them felt finished to me. Between them, I felt sure I was seeing pieces of A and Palladium merged with the “unique circle,” concept. Though the cooperation with Zaha Hadid had been underway for three months, I wasn’t persuaded that what I was seeing was truly a final product. They looked like a first set of ideas, with some of the concept features woven onto an existing platform. I suspect that with further development and engagement with a motivated client, the boundary between Zaha Hadid and Blohm+Voss could be married to offer a superior design greater than the sum of its parts. But they’re not exactly there yet.

What are your thoughts on the cooperation? Let us know.

The "buildable" concept (left) alongside the prototype design

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