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Superyacht Design Festival 2024: All the highlights from Kitzbühel

30 January 2024 • Written by Katia Damborsky

The long-awaited Superyacht Design Festival returned for the 2024 edition in the Austrian ski town of Kitzbühel. BOAT reflects on the highlights from the event...

The Superyacht Design Festival followed the BOAT International Design & Innovation Awards on 28 January, where the winners were crowned in a glamorous ceremony. Attendees enjoyed a packed agenda, with a keynote speech on the pitfalls and potential of AI, a deep dive into alternative teak materials and a closer look at the 46.5-metre ArtExplorer with her owner – followed by the famous Ski Cup. 

The festival would not be possible without the support of our valued event partners - Oliveri, Feadship, KMF, Sleipner, Compass Tenders, Falcon Tenders, Viraver, Sabrina Monte-Carlo, Videoworks, Lürssen, Benetti, Sanlorenzo, Ocean Alexander and The Rug Company - as well as our supporting partners - Lasvit and Triton Submarines.

Watch the highlights

Day One

The day began with a welcome coffee and registration at the K3 in Kitzbühel. Guests were then invited to the conference hall, where Shirley Robertson OBE officially inaugurated the event. 

A View from the Top

Stewart Campbell

"We thought the decline would be steeper"

BOAT's editor-in-chief Stewart Campbell kicked off the festival with a detailed insight into the state of the current superyacht fleet, with data powered by BOATPro. "We're building slightly fewer yachts, but the ones we are building are longer and more voluminous," he explained, as the  Global Order Book was put under the spotlight. He noted that the multihull and explorer yacht sectors were on the rise, while the brokerage market had levelled off somewhat after the "crazy Covid years" and is now more comparable to 2019 figures. For the first time, the Global Order Book recorded different propulsion systems; Campbell broke down the yachts in build by their propulsion type and noted 112 projects in build are being developed with solar capacity. 

Is it time to embrace AI?

Neil Leach

"We have to recognise that we're no longer the most intelligent thing in the universe"

"We live in a world where we're completely surrounded by AI", said British architect and AI expert Neil Leach in his keynote address. He compared artificial intelligence to an "invisible super-intelligent alien species" and predicted that AI will know "a billion times more than us" in the not-too-distant future. "We have to recognise that we're no longer the most intelligent thing in the universe," said Leach. However, he stressed that these advancements shouldn't be met with fear or resentment. "Human beings are adaptive," he said, and AI will be a "stepping stone to higher things". It will be a world of "less work, more possibilities", he added, forecasting a new wave of "inorganic, or mechanical, evolution".

How to 'Grow' your own Superyacht Interiors

Amy Congdon and Aino-Leena Grapin

"The least exciting thing you can do {with biofabrication] is make it look like leather"

The next presentation of the day saw chief design officer of Biofabricate, Amy Congdon, take to the stage alongside Aino-Leena Grapin, CEO of Winch Design, to discuss biofabrication in the realm of alternative materials for superyachts. The instinct "is to know what a material is most closely like, that's where mimicking comes in," said Congdon. But that's "the least creative thing you can do with it".  She put forward the idea of new and different types of materials that haven't been seen in the design world before.  "I think clients always want something new, something their friends don't have," agreed Grapin, but she noted that "testing and certification requirements" are still a consideration. The panel sparked debate about the sustainability and ethics of leather and the possibility of a completely "leather-free" superyacht.

Game Changing Glass: How Windows Could Help Power your Yacht

Veeral Hardev

Feadship's chief marketing officer Farouk Nefzi poses a question to the speaker

The next presentation of the day saw Veeral Hardev, VP of Corporate Strategy at Ubiquitous Energy, take to the stage to explain how "transparent solar" energy works. He described the innovation as the "only truly transparent solar solution that generates energy", and walked attendees through the process of harvesting invisible UR and IR light to generate power, which uses light-absorbing dyes to draw out energy without compromising the transparency and clarity of the glass. "Superyachts use so much glass," pointed out Shirley Robertson OBE. "This could be a solution of the future."


Cristina Vezzini and Stan Chen (middle) are presented with their trophies

The first half of the day was closed with the winners of the BOAT Artistry & Craft Awards (BACA). A new awards programme from BOAT International, the BACA are designed to judge the unique hand-crafted and artisanal components on board the world's finest superyachts. BOAT's group creative director Chris Whale was joined on stage by features director Charlotte Hogarth-Jones to crown the winners, who were presented with intricate, hand-crafted trophies

Young Designer of the Year lunch

All six finalists were invited to the lunch

The Young Designer of the Year lunch, in partnership with Feadship, saw finalists join the shipyard's designer and wider team in an intimate lunch setting to discuss this year's competition and all things superyacht design.

Rise of the Hyper-Bespoke Yacht: Why the Future of Design is 3D Printing

Manuel Jiménez García

"Our tech is built to make spaces efficient and unique"

"Luxury is about customisation and sustainability," said Manuel Jiménez García, the creative brains behind 3D printing company Nagami. Opening up the second half of the day, he presented some insights into his company and the rise of 3D printing in the luxury furniture and architecture sphere, including the possibility of printing boats in the future – "I can't say too much" he warned, but he hinted at a 3D-printed boat that would look like a "floating glowing animal on the water". He drew comparisons between designing a superyacht and "reimagining the spaces we inhabit" through 3D printing, and noted that 3D printing is far more time-efficient which means it "competes with traditional furniture design". 

Beyond Teak: The Next-Gen Alternatives Worth Taking Seriously

Richard Strauss,  André Hofmann,  Francesco Errico,  Marcel Van Der Spek,  Marilyn Mower

"We've got to this point because Burma, now Myanmar, has a troubled history"

BOAT International's contributing editor Marilyn Mower opened the teak-focused portion of the day by touching on the historical context of teak sourced from Burma, now Myanmar. She was joined on stage by representatives from various alternative teak decking companies, including Teakdecking Systems, WolzNautic, MarineCork and Esthec. "Teak isn't taboo," argued one of the speakers. "We need to change the mindset of the industry." However, all agreed that alternatives for teak decking were necessary to move the industry along and each representative was allocated some time to talk about their teak alternative. 

Frédéric Jousset, Owner of ArtExplorer

Frédéric Jousset, Stewart Campbell

After she finishes her Mediterranean leg, ArtExplorer will move to Northern Europe, revealed Jousset

The final panel of the day was one of the most hotly-anticipated, with the owner of "Swiss Army knife" floating art gallery ArtExplorer taking to the stage to discuss the motivation behind the project. Frédéric Jousset doesn't use his yacht like a regular yachtsman – in fact, he told Stewart Campbell that he doesn't even see himself as a yacht owner, more of a museum director. Explaining the incentive behind the roaming museum concept, he said he believed that the arts were becoming less popular in modern society and "most of the people don't think to go to a museum" but "they would be excited to go on a yacht". The proposal for the yacht's itinerary would be 15 days in 15 harbours, all while opening up the yacht to the public in each location. Malta, Venice (for the Biennale) Marseille and Morocco are all on the agenda. 

AI Workshop

The final session of the day saw Neil Leach offer an informal AI workshop to attendees. Participants could request certain terms and design conceptual objects in real-time using AI software, with Leach guiding them through the process and pointing out the limitations and strengths of the programme. The workshop sparked plenty of conversation about ethics, morals and where AI might develop and evolve.

Festival Social

The first day finished with the annual Festival Social, which took place at Hochkitzbühel bei Tomschy. Guests were transported to the venue via gondola, and they enjoyed their journey with chilled white wine and views over the town below. A three-course meal was served at the restaurant, followed by live entertainment. 

Day 2

How to Invent an Island

Giovanni Ferrara

"The inspiration came from the European idea of yachting"

Giovanni Ferrara, head of architecture at Luca Dini Design & Architecture, opened day two with a closer look at the design of the Sindalah development. He talked about drawing inspiration from Europe's premier yachting hotspots such as Porto Cervo, and ignited murmurs around the room when he boldly declared that "Italians do it better". He suggested other up-and-coming yachting destinations like Albania and touched on the developments for yachts looking to visit the region. "A lot of work is going into facilitating superyacht transit through the Suez", he said. 

The America's Cup Laboratory: What Superyachts can Learn from the 'F1 of Yachting'

Simon Schofield

Marnix J Hoekstra, co-creative director of Vripack, listens to the presentation

"What we do in the Cup rarely finds its way out into the rest of the world," explained Simon Schofield, CTO of BAR (Ben Ainslie Racing) Technologies, in the second presentation of the morning. He echoed Leach's words about the new wave of AI, saying that programmes need to evolve to be able to take physics and technology into consideration. But he was positive about the future, saying we are "no longer restrained by human thought", and the industry needs the "confidence to make big, bold steps". 

My Life in Boats

Dickie Bannenberg, Stewart Campbell

"These yachts were incredibly radical and arguably still are"

The day ended on a high note with Dickie Bannenberg on stage with Stewart Campbell. The pair took a walk down memory lane, talking about the legacy left behind by the late Jon Bannenberg and charting Dickie's life through his boats. He recalled his father's unconventional office on King's Road, his frequent trips to Greece to meet with his close-knit circle of clients and his needle-sharp eye for detail when he had his son's school uniform brought into a tailor. Some of Jon's most groundbreaking designs, like 46-metre sisters Azteca and Paraiso, were put in the spotlight. In later years, Dickie recounted memories of working alongside designers like Andrew Winch and Tim Heywood, and vintage photographs were displayed on the screen in the conference hall. Dickie ended the morning with a quote from his father: "Don't impose things, do the best you can and hope it doesn't fall apart."

Ski Cup

After the presentations, attendees headed out to the slopes to participate in the annual Ski Cup, held in partnership with Lürssen. As well as the Women’s Giant Slalom race, Men’s Giant Slalom and Snowboarding Giant Slalom, there was also a Team Race. which saw participants compete in the final leg of the famous Hahnenkamm run. Victors were crowned with medals and prizes and sprays of champagne. A live DJ set rounded out the festivities.

Tickets for the Superyacht Design Festival 2025 are now available. The event will be back in Kitzbühel from 2-4 February 2025.

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