Virgin Voyages, the Miami based cruise shipping newcomer that is part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group of companies in London, has unveiled some design features on board its forthcoming ships and talked to the designers involved.
Here is a summary of what they said:
“You're in a position where you’re encouraged very early on to be disruptive. That’s the whole idea right?” says Tom Dixon, in talking about diving into his highly-anticipated work for Virgin Voyages' first ship. “It’s like ok, we don’t want to be like anybody else. We want to be completely different. That’s a great brief.”
As with all of the designers, Dixon was purposely chosen, in part, because he’s never worked on a ship before. “I quite like coming at something from a completely different angle and presumably there is a method to that madness,” added Dixon. “If you’re going to be disruptive then maybe you shouldn’t know that much about how a cruise line is currently operated.”
From the VIP Deck to the modern, elevated Mexican eatery, his approach to designing for ocean voyages was not only fresh but modern and charmingly eccentric.
“There’s no point asking [Tom Dixon] to do the more regular spaces because that’s not his style,” said Dee Cooper, Senior Vice President of Design for Virgin Voyages. “We knew we wanted to ask him to do more premium spaces that were glamorous and fun.”With hubs in New York, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles and Tokyo, he’s known for creating futuristic and forward-thinking interiors and exteriors of tomorrow. “I think in general, big ships have got a romance about them and they are astonishing to see in so many ways. The scale of them as man-made objects is fascinating,” said Dixon. “What appealed to me about the project was doing something I’ve never done before which is always more interesting than doing something you’ve already done. It’s quite a risky business, you know?”
With a background in film, Roman and Williams, the design firm founded by Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer, incorporate a deep level of understanding for storytelling and immersive experience in much of their work. “Roman and Williams brings a level of human-focused design and narrative to each space they create,” said Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages. “We thought their perspective would really help us to define and tell the Virgin Voyages story.”
They have designed a number of prominent hospitality spaces like The Chicago Athletic Association in Chicago and the Viceroy Hotel in New York City as well as personal residences for notable celebrities like Ben Stiller, Kate Hudson and Gwyneth Paltrow. They were named among Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business in 2016 and were also awarded the Smithsonian’s prestigious National Design Award for excellence in Interior Design.
“To partner with Virgin on this project,” said Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, lead designers at Roman and Williams, “the making of a journey and an experience worthy of one of nature’s most beautiful models – the sea - is the pinnacle of experience and hospitality design.”
It was their work on the revolutionary Freehand hotel-hostels and New York City's perennial hotspots The GIlded Lily nightclub and The Boom Boom Room at The Standard Hotel, that made them the natural first choice for designing Virgin Voyages’ own onboard nightclub, The Manor.
“The Boom Boom Room and the Gilded Lily have an interesting thread that connects them,” said the Roman and Williams’ designers. “Though one is above the canopy of the city, and one markedly below it, both tap into our collective human desire to be around kinetic energy at nighttime.”
Inspired by Richard Branson’s first-ever Virgin music studio of the same name, the creative, dance music-fueled space has been expertly outfitted with details, platforms and corners that make it both somewhere to see and to be seen.
They talk about themselves as a firm that designs interiors ‘that work’. While this is true, the masterminds at Concrete Amsterdam go above and beyond perfection in function when it comes to their designs. They create strikingly beautiful spaces that evoke feeling, connection and emotion for all who experience them.
“It’s about connection, to yourself and to others,” said Lisa Hassanzadeh of Concrete Amsterdam. “So that’s why we always concentrate on spaces where people connect.”
As a design firm, Concrete is always eager to create spaces that challenge norms and offer unexpected surprises. Some primary designs for the ship include the minimalist-leaning Test Kitchen, a chef-forward, experimental dining space. They also designed the edgy, 1930s New York City inspired, Athletic Club on the ship.
According to the team at Concrete Amsterdam, people tend to enter spaces like gyms or restaurants blindly, with basic expectations, without realizing they are doing it. “If you take down more barriers for people,” says Rob Wagemans of Concrete. then they start doing what they really want to do.”
This focus on human-centric design is nothing new to Concrete Amsterdam, which already boasts renowned eateries like Spice Market London and 212 Amsterdam. “While the restaurants and spaces they do are beautiful,” said Dee Cooper, SVP of Design for Virgin Voyages, “they also serve a purpose at every turn.”
Their approach to The Athletic Club reflects another innovative notion with its raised jogging track that seems to float above the ship, rendered in an eye-catching shade of Virgin signature red. A massively unexpected catamaran-inspired net for people watching is also featured here, for lounging above it all. It’s the perfect cross section of athletic meets relaxation meets socializing.
"We knew we're responsible for the gym space and the sports bar, and we thought 'This could be one…’," says Rob Wagemans of Concrete. “Can the gym happen at the bar and can the bar happen at the gym? And in this discussion The Athletic Club concept came about.”
When it comes to the creative process, the designers at Concrete Amsterdam love to follow intuition, simplify ideas and strip a concept down to its essence. “We're sure our sailors will appreciate their focus on function when it comes to design,” said Tom McAlpin, President and CEO of Virgin Voyages in speaking about these inventive designs. “We know our sailors will love the look, feel and the element of surprise they've created as well.” It seems approaching design for life on the sea was equally exciting for Concrete as it was for Virgin Voyages, and it shows in each detail.
If you take down more barriers for people, then they start doing what they really want to do.