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Studio Faggioni - Yacht Design

Un'esperienza assoluta

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Title: Un'esperienza assoluta
Magazine: GUD
Issue: 82
Year: 2006
Attachment (pdf/doc): Lulworth (1)-20120903-224914.pdf
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Stefano Faggioni expresses on paper and in words a passion and an uncommon love for the sea, boats and boating culture. Born to the trade, he inherits from his father a 360-degree sensitivity to 'everything that floats'. The Studio Faggioni ? first with Ugo and currently Stefano ? shows rare and all-round design ability, which easily spans from gozzo (small Italian fishing boats) to high-speed ferries, through a number of restoration works. In particular, Stefano's debut as a professional occurred in 1997 with the interior restyling of the Bertram 54', 60' and 73',which were all well-received at the 1998 Miami Boat Show. Today, the trust that boat owners and builders alike have in the name Stefano Faggioni and his studio is confirmed by the series of both partial and overall restoration works that they have undertaken on vessels such as Iduna, Black Swan, Candida, Magda XIII, Pianosa, as well as the just-completed total restoration of Lulworth.At the same time, with Naumachos 82 ? an explorer vessel built by Cantieri Navali di Pesaro ? they are renewing their commitment to a from-scratch design.

Lulworth ? a majestic and elegant 46.5-meter LOA vessel ? is the world's largest gaff cutter and the last remaining of the legendary Big Class (Shamrock, White Heather II, Britannia, Westward). She was found, 15 years ago, mud berthed and used as a boathouse.

She is originally the result of the design and building skills of the White Brothers yard in Southampton, which, in 1920, built and launched her in record time.

Her first owner, Mr. Lee,was determined to provide a worthy rival in the race against the Royal Yacht Britannia. Her second owner, Herbert Weld ? after a few changes made by naval architect Charles Nicholson (masts and yards, rigging and keel ballast) ? made this dream come true.

Lulworth boasts a glittering career: during her racing season at the beginning of the century, off the British coast, she won 114 prizes, turning into a unique, unequalled, historical and technological reference. Today, she is once again famous for what has been defined as 'the restoration of the century', which started in 2001 and was completed with her launch, last February.

Stefano Faggioni and his Studio's design undertaking, the commitment by the yard's workers, who came from at least sixteen different countries, as well as the owner's will ? who kept believing in and supporting such a colossal undertaking ? made it possible to take 'the last true gem' back to the sea, ready for new challenges and races.

Carola: When we talk about restoration, people immediately think of the wealth of treatises and the lively debate existing in the field of architecture concerning historical heritage conservation, not to mention the strict and thorough regulations complied with by workers in the field when performing their work. If, instead, the word 'restoration' is combined with words such as 'ship' or 'boat', we immediately notice that this niche activity is not subject to as many written rules ? therefore often running the risk of being mixed up with ordinary maintenance ? and that it has become a potential subject of debate only in recent times.

Hands-on experience and fatherly tradition have certainly helped you identify a modus operandi on vintage boats and to give a personal definition of the combination between restoration and boats: what is your opinion? What path lies hidden behind conceiving and defining boat restoration? Working on a vintage boat implies, on the one hand, the willingness to safeguard and preserve its glamour and historical value, on the other, the need for functionality and correct operation, without neglecting, however, the owner's will. How do all these aspects co-exist in the designing process? What are both the constraints and the freedoms of action?

Stefano: It is impossible to establish a rule, because a boat is like a human being, things change completely depending on the boat, the model, its rigging, masts and sails, also depending on its interior, where it comes from, the year of construction, the evolution of the original drawing over time, on its belonging to different owners and, consequently, its being run by different captains, and on the purposes for which the boat has been used. A key element is the optimization of rigging, masts and sails because the original ones may not necessarily have determined the boat's best performance. Therefore, very often the different captains try to optimize, with practice, the design (slightly lowering the mast, lifting the clew, adjusting the sheet point...). Such small adjustment procedures result in the optimised boat, i.e. the reference point for the refitting work.

It is impossible to draw an immediate comparison with architectural restoration, as this has been a topic of discussion for more than a century. For example, the concept of 'patina of time as an added value' is wonderful, but not applicable on boats, because a boat must first of all function. The restoration work must allow the boat to go back to sailing, if the boat cannot sail, it doesn't make sense.

In the restoration of vintage boats, the sum of multiple factors, such as the owner's will, the inevitable new onboard technology and the builder ? which is often no longer accustomed to a traditional type of construction ? must produce an acceptable product. Acceptable in the sense that, when someone gets on board the boat, he/she should have the feeling of stepping back in time, of crossing the threshold of a distant time. I think that in order to achieve this, the architect should efface himself somehow, in his/her work. This is a research study, whose aim is two-fold: first of all, to recover, as much as possible, everything that is already there (drawings, photographs, documents, evidence); and then, during the execution phase, to try and personalize as little as possible, in the attempt to reproduce the boat's original style and atmosphere.

No particular invention is required, but this study ? which includes the design of bulkhead panels where they no longer exist ? is a fairly long process: it is a real project, rather than just a 'repeat' job. Finding an original drawing of the boat is not enough to get the project under way, and it is not enough if we want to work on the whole boat, but it is a starting point that helps launch a new project resulting from a long and well thought out research study. This is also because overall plans like the ones from the '20s are not as detailed as one would hope for.

Boat builders are a crucial link in the chain, as they now have to do, with machines, what once used to be done by hand, even though machines do not always achieve the kind of finishing one would like. Milling machines and pantographs, for example, do not complete a 90? turn; in order to do this, you need to have good manual skills or find the right craftsman who, as it once was, completes the piece. Nowadays, many curved items are made using laminated wood, while shipyard workers once knew how to work solid wood. In the case of Lulworth, curved solid woods were also used. Choosing the right wood is very important, finding the most appropriate wood for a certain construction or working process is essential, and, often though not always, the most suitable wood is exactly the same as the one that was once used. For example, for curved pieces such as grommets, ash is a must, as you can easily bend it (like Vienna Thonet chairs); also for small pieces such as frames, that then need to be lacquered, I decided to have ash used, because you let it boil for a while and then you can easily shape it.

In this way you reactivate and revive a whole group of shipyard workers who are able to apply working procedures that were used 100 years ago. These workers are difficult to find, and we are talking about hard-working people who are often the key piece in a jigsaw that needs to be put together and orchestrated. People to raise and look after, who are hard workers and on the same wavelength as you. Men to whom you show a sketch and they carry it out because they enjoy doing it. For a craftsman this challenge is certainly more rewarding than working on a veneered interior, it encourages him to start and get organized in order to obtain the best possible product.
If you were to talk in terms of density and rarefaction, uniqueness and multiplicity in refitting vintage boats, what would you refer to?

I would like to give an interpretation that is reminiscent of Michelangelo's architectural work, although I would never dare make a comparison! Every fabbrica, or every creation of his, is a sculptural work, as Michelangelo is always a sculptor, also when he is a painter, an architect and a poet. Boats are the same: they appear in their whole entity straight away ? from the topmast to the keel ? one and the same, speaking only the same language, i.e. that of the boat. This is obviously a language that can then be compared to that of many other boats, if only for being from the same period, of the same origin and by the same designer. All is really very 'dense'. Clearly, what you see from the outside is necessarily different from the interior: the outside is pure propulsion ? I am always referring to sailing yachts ? while the interior considerably helps architect studios which are able to reproduce the most suitable style onboard the boat. Stimuli are used that, very often, contribute to solving some details, such as handles, scuttlebutts, lamps or dishes... If we go into detail, we can consider 'everything as very dense'. For example, in the plan of masts and yards you get down to the detail of collar construction, in other cases you get to talk about screw threading or about the machining of steel and bronze. The working plan is always very detailed, as in the case of a mechanical piece. Whereas, the working plan for the interior ? as regards woodwork ? can and should leave some space for creativity to the craftsman; indeed, it is more likely that the latter, feeling that he is not so restricted in his work, may produce a better product in the end. In order to achieve the best possible result, he has to feel he partly owns the piece, while no inventiveness should be left to the mechanical workshop.

In this sense, density lies in seeing the boat finished, that it all goes and moves together, each single element needs to be seen as an integral part of the entire product.
It seems to me that Lulworth is the densest and most significant experience in recent history of vintage sailing boat restoration: could you please briefly tell us, although I realize it is impossible, your experience with this sea wonder?

It is a 'briefly' lasting 5 years... It has been an all-round work. We did not deal with the sail part, although we would have really liked to, because the boat was bought with an already-completed mast, but as to the interior, that took five years of hard work. First of all, we had to catalogue all the contents. Unlike many other boats that today undergo restoration, we had to catalogue various parts of the existing interior (the saloon including up-and-over stanchions and table, the corridor's bulkheads, etc.): these were all scattered objects. Gathering, cataloguing and then physically locating them in space was certainly the longest work which went on till the end. [What remained of the boat at the start of its restoration plan was basically the shell of the hull, while the still-existing interior elements were stripped and stored in boxes. Writer's note].

Including the pre-existing bulkheads in the design was an even more complicated job. Drawing a general plan from scratch is a particular job but, all in all fairly simple, if compared to the need to create a general plan with an existing restriction. On the one hand, I had to deal with original bulkheads that needed to be put in place ? with the awareness that I had to place them exactly in the right spot ? and, on the other, with a 'stripped-to-the-bone' hull. Then, after the 'first step' and at long last having found their final location, I had to work around the existing elements in the drawing: it was an extremely complicated mental and design procedure. Also because, when a design, what's more hand-made, does not move for three or four months from your table, it starts to become heavy... you begin wanting to see it disappear and you force yourself to work on it at night to get to the desired final result. Moreover, there were many drawings of the boat, but they were all different from one another.

The problem thus arose which one to choose as a model and to consider as the original one, as well as the need to assess which one was the most appropriate for the owner. Against this background resulted a series of preliminary proposals for the interior aimed at both fulfilling the owner's wish and at complying with a conservative restoration approach.

Adjacent to the owner's cabin, for example, in lieu of a previous bathroom ? no longer adaptable and feasible ? after many ups and downs, an open reading area was designed in line with the time when the boat was built, capable of making the cabin look larger and more comfortable, whereas the owner's toilette was completed with a philological type of work in line with nowadays' needs.

The technical area [galley and crew quarters ? writer's note], forward of the saloon, is, on the contrary, entirely new. When you are there, in the middle of it, you start to reduce the scale, and the design gets bigger until it becomes 1:1. This entails a considerable and particular effort, also thanks to the owner who, despite knowing that he will spend much more, gives you a free hand on everything. Then, you may happen to ask 'shall we put in new lamps?' and he will tell you 'let's put new lamps, great idea!': and after a couple of suggestions, there comes the lamp! And this goes for many other examples. At a certain point I would not ask any more. I took the situation in my hands and when there was nothing on the market that would suit us, I preferred designing tailor-made details myself. I would draw a three-dimensional pattern and then I would proceed with casting the piece through the lost-wax technique, as in the case of the refrigerator handle and many others.

All these small details, together with the general design, were part of a marvellous orchestra, a concert made up of devising, melting, lost wax, pattern maker and pattern. A wood pattern that you feel and directly experiment with, simulating the opening and closing movement of a handle, polishing and modifying it until you obtain the desired result. In our Studio, we have always paid attention to details, but not to this extent... it was a wonderful experience, you feel like doing anything. I stopped, at some stage, only to avoid becoming excessively obsessive.

Once the boat was finished, it really made an impression on me to see it in the water... I realized ? after five years of work in the yard ? how much smaller it was than I imagined. Seeing it as you saw it, in the sea, is different, you don't know that there are another five meters under the waterline... Seeing it and experiencing it in the dry dock is another thing: it is like a church or the Pantheon hanging over you with its cupola and somehow overwhelming you with its presence... In her natural habitat, Lulworth is more harmless than one would imagine, but in the previous five years I was subject to and experienced her grandeur.
Are there other experiences you would compare to that you had with Lulworth?

Another interesting experience was restoring Pianosa. At least as interesting as Lulworth, although we are talking about a 12.50-meter Sorrentino gozzo. In this case, I was struck by the courage of the owner, who wanted to restore an object which was in very bad condition, comparable to Lulworth's. But in the latter case, in the end, you have an over 40-meter mega yacht, while in the case of Pianosa, you have 'to be satisfied with' a gozzo, therefore the work is certainly more of a cultural nature. In this case, the restoration plan was carried out in a completely different way: I made an effort to be spontaneous. An affected spontaneity ? I dare say ? although it may sound contradictory.

These boats used to be made in Sorrento, as well as in Naples, and were equipped with second-hand propulsion machinery, such as engines of US Jeeps abandoned after the war. Pianosa was, indeed, equipped with a tank engine... which could obviously not be repeated. All this is to say that, recovery meant as reuse, is a sensation that I liked to reproduce in this gozzo also once the restoration work was completed; I liked the idea of getting onboard and finding different blocks, as well as by the thought of going in search of the various pieces.

Besides the taste for different things, I tried to completely absorb the local know-how, in the attempt to have a product which would be as faithful to the original as possible. In this sense, the local workers turned out to be fundamental, because they work today as they did then, and they consider as pure routine what for us is restoration.
Lulworth shows how conservation and design can co-exist and live together in planning restoration tout court. What is the relationship between two phenomena apparently in contrast, and where is this, in your opinion, mostly reflected?

Unlike boat building from scratch, the objects need to draw inspiration from a detail that nobody will see, but that is right there: it is the boat's DNA. Once this object is deduced its nature will also be understood. In my case, the underlying theme was a sort of flower that I took as an inspiration for the base of the wall lamps and that I then used as a matrix for conceiving other details. All this gives you a free hand on the type of concept and object that you are about to create, but always remembering what it is, not so much the boat as an object, but, rather, the boat in terms of DNA; in other words, the small piece I was talking about before which, in this case, may be the wall lamp's small arm section or its floreate base.

I must tell you the truth: I felt I had a lot of freedom, and, once I identified the leitmotif for that particular boat, I felt perhaps even freer to also re-propose other objects such as a key, or better still, the refrigerator handle. Working in this way, you realize that there is something about the refrigerator that belongs to the boat, even though it did not exist before (in fact, I didn't even know whether an icebox was in the original plan).When you see and grasp this simple handle, you spontaneously think 'this is not a new design object, it is an object that belongs to the boat' as it is part of the whole. This is how my attitude to the work I did should be understood, meaning that the new design work carried out on this boat is original. Original, I would say, from 1920, as if I took out a 'rib from the boat to create the new one'. This is certainly the difference between 'from scratch design' and what is the small margin, but in reality large enough, of design in refitting.
It is a bit like being a designer in 1920!

It is partly like that and that's what is nice about it. Thinking about the piece, drawing it by hand both in elevation and in space, with shading, enjoying it. And then going to the pattern maker, taking the pattern back to sand it, shaping it, modifying it... even by only a few mm. You start having a different perception: it is no longer a two-dimensional or three-dimensional view on paper, but, rather, a physical sensation. It is so exciting to feel it in your hands like the old hull models by shipwrights.
In a demanding job like Lulworth's full restoration, small objects such as handles, locks and wall lamps may seem only marginal or secondary aspects. In fact, the necessary path to define them from concept design to implementation seems to me an incentive to reflect on the complexity of working in this field. Could you please describe a case study for us?

The constant thought of this boat in my head was comparable to the one you may have of a person, although of course ? from a design viewpoint ? in the five years required to work on Lulworth I didn't do just this. For example, I often found myself in the train saying to myself 'look at this, this might be interesting', then taking notes of it and sketching it in a notepad. The constant presence and thought of this 'child' that you have somewhere, leads you to sketch many small objects wherever you are, like travel notes to be revised, later on, in the quiet of your studio. Then, at the drawing desk, you bring them into focus on paper... deleting, deleting and drawing again... and finally you take all their proportions under control. In the different versions, curves may slightly change, but they change because the eye is very sensitive and it is very hard to deceive the eye. This sketch then turns into the final plan, then into the wooden pattern, then wax, then casting... polishing and, only at the end, is the finished piece laid on deck. I give as an example the caps for the winch buttons.
The way you say it, the object per se sounds banal and microscopic in relation to the whole; while, in fact, along with detail concept design, there is also the problem of technological needs that are hardly matched with Lulworth's real age...

It is an annoying object, as we are already talking about electric winches on a 1920 vintage boat, when winches as they are understood today didn't even exist, but that we couldn't even think of doing without in order for the boat to be maneuvered. The problem, therefore, was how to make them look more acceptable. First of all, the caps were conceived to be in normal bronze rather than in aluminum-bronze alloy, which is what was used for the deck winches and eyebolts instead. This is because the former oxidizes, thus blending in with the teak's ash grey, while the alloy is as resistant as steel, but it neither ages nor oxidizes, thus always standing out too much on deck.

Once the problem of the material was solved, I moved on to determining its consistency and its appearance... I also did the same for many other objects, such as in the case of the key: it so happens that you start thinking and looking around... you see the door, the handle... and you realize that there is no key and you start to think creatively.

Then you take out the boat's DNA, the leitmotif, and from it you design the key, then you take out the key-holder, and then...

Maria Carola Morozzo Della Rocca

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