For more than 20 years, Luiz De Basto has been focused on yacht design. Whether penning the interior and exterior lines of a sleek and stylish superyacht or a “small” production boat, De Basto brings a real passion to his work. He plays not just with structure but also natural light. He also pays continual attention to technological advances that allow him as a designer to challenge tradition.
In this Megayacht News Leadership Series, De Basto explains how design constraints can actually be golden opportunities, not drawbacks, and how he views the late Aristotle Onassis as being key to today’s yachting industry.
Q: What convinced you to design yachts, rather than other items?
A: As many other things in life, it was by chance, by the power of “running-in.” Growing up in Angola, I had a precocious inclination for drawing, always interested in art, cars, and architecture. When my family moved to Brazil due to the war, I graduated in architecture and opened my own office designing houses and buildings. At the same time, I was teaching in college, and one of my students asked me to help her father, who had just opened a yard, with their first boat, a 56-foot flybridge model. I found the assignment extremely easy and interesting, and my suggestions were immediately accepted by the yard, starting a long-term collaboration and basically starting my career in yacht design. After all, boats and yachts are a perfect combination of two of my life passions, cars and architecture. For many years after that, my office, called Villa Design, was dedicate to both houses and boats, because the yacht market was still in its infancy in Brazil and there weren’t many yachts to be designed. When I moved to the U.S. in 1990 with my wife and kids, I dedicated myself exclusively to yacht design. I have to add that it was a complete re-launch of my career; I had to start completely from scratch.
Q: When you meet with clients, do they typically have a lot of ideas already as to how they wish their yachts to look? Or, do they often want your guidance and input?
A: The short answer is both. Because we do exterior and interior design, for private clients and for yards, all my clients know what they want at the basic level. Typically yard clients look for new designs or a new line of boats within a certain range and with a certain family feeling. A good example of this approach is my current work with Intermarine in Brazil, for whom I had worked many years ago before moving to the U.S. Now I am designing a complete new line of flybridge boats, exterior and interior, from 42 to 95 feet—a total of five new models, three of them already in the water. My work with Cheoy Lee is also typical; they are introducing at the upcoming Fort Lauderdale boat show a new 70 Express, the first from a line called Alpha, and I am doing the interiors. In these examples, the yard knows what the customers are looking for, and we design accordingly. Of course, there is a large amount of creative freedom in the design sense. That’s the main reason the clients approach me in the first place, to create something new. As a designer, I look at parameters and constraints as creative inspiration.
The work for private owners is different from yards; the entire design process is extremely personal. We are not looking for what the market is expecting, we are fulfilling the requirements of an individual owner with specific ideas. However, all clients expect me to propose fresh ideas and concepts beyond their own guidance and input.
Q: While I’m sure it’s difficult to choose a favorite project, are there some yachts you have designed that you feel were particularly successful, or that you consider special? Which ones, and what makes them so?
A: I used to say that my favorite project is the next one. Currently I have several very interesting new projects just launched or to be introduced in the next few weeks to the public, such as the Oceanco 90-meter, the Quasar line with Trinity, the Intermarine 95, the Cheoy Lee Alpha 70, the Vanderark 47 with Kurt Krogen, and the Aston Martin boat (pictured), the Voyage 55’, a concept. From the past I have several projects that I like, and for many different reasons. Some are successful and others are not, which tells me that whether or not you personally like a design, it’s not a reason for public and/or sales success. From the design point of view, I like the Boatmobile, a boat and trailer combination; the Yara project, with an enclosed flybridge over an open deck; a 136 hi-speed boat unfortunately not built, the Genesis Argyll, maybe the first yacht to incorporate wheelchair access successfully; the Canados 90’, with a partial glass ceiling, which won the Showboats award for the best design in its category; the line of explorers for Newcastle and Inace; the Magnums 44 Banzai and 51 Bestia, for their expression of power and speed; the Savannah 55, with clean architectural lines; the Daemon 75, where the glass ceiling of the main saloon extends forward to create a skylight for the lower salon and cabins; just to name a few which I believe have some level of design innovation.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face in working with clients? For example, do they sometimes have a hard time explaining what they want? Do some clients have so many ideas that they can’t easily settle on just one?
A: When the design brief becomes a moving target, that’s when we can have a problem. Not so much explaining what they want, but some clients get so excited and sometimes anxious with the design process, where almost everything is possible, that they keep asking for more variations, more possibilities, afraid to commit, maybe with the feeling that doing so, their project becomes obsolete, which is not true. Ideas can be powerful, but their value is limited. There’s no substitute for the real thing. The design process is not short, starting with conceptual sketches, moving to CAD drawings, selection of materials, colors, and then renderings. We try not to start the next phase prior to having the present phase understood and accepted by the client, either private or yard. However, sometimes the client asks to go back to a previous phase to make changes in the design, and it’s a very costly process in time, money, and emotional drawback, in particular, when everything up to that point has been seen and approved by the client. Fortunately, clients have not asked us to go back many times. At least not as many times as I have decided myself to go back and restart something because I was not happy or ready for a presentation.
Q: Are there any elements of “traditional” yacht design that you believe should be re-thought? For example, some designers and builders are eliminating formal dining rooms.
A: Many yacht traditionalists believe there’s only one way to design and built a proper yacht and only one accepted aesthetic. But if you think about yachting history, you’ll see that yachting, the way we know it presently, is a very young activity. In my opinion, the first modern yachtsman was Onassis, the first to use his yacht for family entertainment, for business and as a projection of his personal power. Before him there were certainly many yacht owners, but they did not use their yachts the way we use them today. Everyone in the world knew Onassis owned a yacht, and that was barely 50 years ago, so it’s fair to say that yacht design is just starting. New lifestyles, new destinations, marinas, trained crew, tenders, new materials, and advances in technology are being processed by designers to create the yacht of the present and of the future. High-speed train commuters are not nostalgic about steam locomotives, so why should we be about yachts? Old ways of using yachts are disappearing or changing. Formal dining rooms are one example; nowadays many prefer to eat alfresco. Another one is the formal office. With wireless technology and a laptop, any flybridge becomes your office.
Q: You’re collaborating with leading shipyards like Lurssen and Trinity Yachts on some interesting concept projects. How did these evolve: Did you approach the yards with a design, or did they come to you?
A: I have collaborated with Blohm+Voss for Striker, with Lürssen, with Oceanco for DP009, and at the moment with Trinity. It’s a dynamic process. I am constantly sketching ideas, and when a particular idea seems interesting, I approach a specific yard for a mutual collaboration, but the other way around also is true. Some yards approach me and propose a technical collaboration to create a new design for a potential client. I think this is a response to a new trend in the yacht market where a potential client “shops” around for his new yacht, checking available designs and yards. I believe clients are not looking for wild concepts dreamed by some designer who never spent one hour aboard a vessel, but who “loves car design.” They come with an entourage typically formed by the captain of their existing boat, a broker, a surveyor, attorneys, etc. who give sound counseling. That’s why the designs we propose are innovative but completely feasible; they are based on a platform engineered by the yard. Lately few yards—actually, I cannot think of anyone in the large-yacht sector—have spec designs ready as a showcase for potential clients. That doesn’t mean the yacht will be built exactly in accordance with the proposed concept, but as a starting point for a truly custom yacht.