Forward-looking award category sees fired-up British designers think well outside the square
Project Utopia's avant-garde vision wins awards and challenges traditional thinking.
Most people who think of the Monaco Yacht Show probably imagine a large collection of the world's latest superyachts (both power and sail) set amid a fair degree of glitz and glamour.
They wouldn't be far wrong; however, the show is also renowned for its annual SuperYacht Owners' Guide awards, and this year those awards included two new categories: Contribution to Superyacht Knowledge and Superyacht Design of the Future.
The inaugural winner in the second category was, as one would expect, rather innovative. Yet, as the picture shows, the somewhat whimsically named Project Utopia looks nothing like a boat at all.
Developed by two UK companies, Southampton-based BMT Nigel Gee and Yacht Island Design, from Nottinghamshire, the project began after a BMT client asked for "a piece of floating real estate that could be moved between nice locations".
BMT Nigel Gee yacht design director James Roy says he clearly remembers the excitement when the design team realised that the project would not necessarily have to end up looking like a traditional yacht.
Unfortunately, the client's brief evolved to include a need to travel at speed, and the design team went back to more conventional thinking.
However, as Roy explains, the seed to create a project "outside the bounds of normal proportion and form" had been sown.
"The intervening years saw us take inspiration from all areas of naval architecture, and we concluded that, if we removed the perception that a yacht had to be a mode of transport, then the creative envelope could open up considerably.
"Much is made in today's design community of starting with a blank sheet of paper.
"Yet many, if not all, yacht concepts revert back to the traditional form - the perception that a yacht should be a form of transport becomes an immediate constraint.
"Utopia is not an object to travel in, it is a place to be; an island established for anyone who has the vision to create such a place," Roy says.
And, one imagines, the wealth.
Roy doesn't talk dollars, or even pounds or euros, but a cursory glance at Project Utopia's specs suggests many millions will be involved, regardless of the currency.
Those specs are impressive: Project Utopia measures 100m in both length and breadth and spans 11 decks. It has a volume equivalent to that of a cruise liner or, as Roy prefers, "enough space to create an entire micro-nation".
The design is based on a four-legged platform and, says Roy, employs the same principles of any small water-plane area design (to ensure minimum motion in even the most extreme sea conditions).
Each leg contains what is described as a "fully azimuthing thruster" and, together, the four units can actually redeploy Project Utopia between locations, albeit at slow speeds.
The design also features a large central structure that bisects the water surface and acts as the conduit for the mooring system (a critical element of the design). It also houses a wet dock for tender access. The design includes "multiple" helicopter pads.
Once on board, the main accommodation and service spaces are spread across the 11 decks, with the uppermost deck covered by a retractable canopy. In addition, on what Roy calls "the 13th floor" is an observatory with 360-degree views.
Those in the observatory would certainly see plenty; it stands an impressive 65m above the water surface.
Despite winning the award for the best Superyacht Design of the Future, Roy thinks Project Utopia's future probably lies elsewhere. "While Utopia has been conceptualised within a yacht context, that in itself is not a particularly defining label to give such a design," he says.
"We see greater application in floating resorts, casinos, or adapting the label of a 'yacht' to a 'personal island' - coming back to the brief that inspired the project: a piece of floating real estate."
Observatory: 65m above sea level
Power: 4 x azimuthing thrusters