Following the austere atmosphere of the medieval period and as the desire for perfect harmony reflected in Renaissance forms began to wane, in the 16th century the wealthy and well-educated members of the European Courts who might seek and engage the assistance of artists and architects began to require new expressive solutions in the works they commissioned.Irrespective of whether these works involved the construction of stately homes or palaces, villas, gardens, decorative elements or furnishings, the new forms of expression had a basic purpose, which was to surprise and astonish the observer and to eschew former canons of elegance and perfection; it was as if a growing sense of boredom had set in with respect to the tradition that had created such splendour.
Examples of this tendency are to be found in the Palazzo Tè in Mantua, an immense palace devoted solely to leisure and entertainment where accommodation for guests was not provided for, or the Bomarzo garden complex in the province of Viterbo, famous for its enigmatic sculptural works that appear to have no logical plan, or the proliferation of artificial grottoes in immense sixteenth-century gardens… not to mention the extraordinary and opulent palace of Versailles, which reflects the notion of an ideal cosmos orbiting around the ‘Sun King’.Many critics say that the Baroque period was the end of an epoch and that the rational, scientific worldview introduced by the Age of Enlightenment was soon to prove the harbinger of the modern age.Today, in the world of yacht design we are witnessing what we might define as a Neo-Baroque phase in terms of the forms that have recently been proposed.Until quite recently in order to explain current trends it would have been sufficient to simply recognise an evident preference for gigantic proportions, but this explanation is no longer adequate.Recent formal solutions, most of which are actually only virtual, appear to be increasingly distant from the canons of classical yacht design. On the one hand there would appear to be an entirely legitimate desire for new ways to manage space, while on the other hand the feeling that emerges is that owners and designers have an increasing tendency to propose something that will surprise and astonish – occasionally even regardless of practical considerations and traditional, ‘normal’ naval practice.It is obvious that the desire of the designers – or perhaps of people in general – to experiment and venture beyond established limits is the primary driving force underpinning evolution and growth, however, the increasing speed and the exaggerated nature of certain solutions may – and, perhaps should – make us reflect on the meaning of this trend. As has been known for centuries, yachts and boats are a symbol of power and prestige and today the association is even more evident. However, in an equally evident manner, the physical existence of yachts alone seems to be no longer enough, and perhaps there are multiple reasons for this.
Nowadays more and more ship owners come from cultural areas in which the artistic sensibility is geared more towards forms of hyper-decorativism and consequently they quite rightly wish to express their cultural identity. At the same time, the targeting of images from all sectors, such as the cinema, fashion, design and car-design in particular leads to a search for design proposals that will satisfy the desire to create special atmospheres. And all of this is rendered if not possible at least plausible by the fact that we are able to create highly realistic virtual images, leading to the belief that it is certainly feasible to realise certain proposals, and – when they are truly excessive – there is always the handy excuse of their being merely ‘concepts’. A further point to reflect on – albeit a less grand one – with respect to the recognition of a certain desire for a stylistic utopia, is that for the vast array of designers who are now turning to the world of yacht design the only way to be noticed and to stand out is precisely that of suggesting solutions that occasionally verge on the absurd. The potential result of this, however, is the spread of the illusion that nothing is impossible and that certain solutions are now entirely outdated, thereby generating expectations that, unfortunately, cannot be satisfied in many cases. As Le Corbusier suggested, what makes the yachting world unique is the chance that “an architect … will find in a steamship his freedom from an age-long but contemptible enslavement to the past … The house of the ‘earth-man’ is the expression of a circumscribed world. The steamship is the first stage in the realisation of a world organised according to a new spirit (1921).”
In other words, a yacht or a steamship can and should offer an opportunity to experiment with unusual solutions, in which creativity, technology and know-how attain a level of optimum quality, and, fortunately, the seas are full of examples. However, a feverish search for the unusual, devoid of any rational orchestration, may lead to the formulation of empty and totally unrealistic proposals, whose sole result is the production of a visual cacophony in the variegated world of yacht design.
All this, therefore, may occasionally render even more complex – were this possible –the role of the designer or operators who have to work on the actual construction and who will find themselves in a position where they will want to, or simply have to, combine their professional skills with a desire to take on new challenges. And this introduces a need to explain that some ideas, unfortunately, involve certain difficulties and risks that make them unworkable … and not because they are not technically possible in the absolute sense … but because they would introduce into the project variables and unknown factors that would not easily adapt to the delicate and complex world of yachts, not to mention any additional costs. It is easy on paper to venture beyond established or accepted limits and from a certain point of view this is perfectly all right, but the ability of a good designer also lies in his capacity to control his flights of imagination, reinterpreting and not ignoring constraints that are sometimes unavoidable.Earning distinction and going beyond what others have done is a core characteristic of what we might call the ‘Made in Italy’ dimension. But at the same time this process must involve certain skills, knowledge, and awareness of the rules, if an evolving project is not to become a sterile adventure within a kind of bizarre Vanity Fair.It would be rather sad if we acted like the vain little frog in Aesop’s fable which, in order to make itself like the ox, puffed itself up more and more until it burst.
Maria Elisabetta Ruggiero