The construction of superyacht palladium

20 January 2015 • Written by Caroline White
Palladium's lines were created with 3D foam modelling skills Michael Leach Design used in the car industry.

Palladium is all about life. From the organic design that connects the exterior lines with the interior spaces, to the furniture that mushrooms from the floors and even the central consideration of the owner’s lifestyle – this 95m yacht was built for and about life.

The originality of ‘ Project Orca’, both in her organic structure and the built-for-living requirements of her interiors, presented new challenges. The finished boat is the milestone that she was intended to be because designer Michael Leach and his team eschewed compromises that would have conventionalised the boat, and instead found innovative solutions that allowed the creation of this cutting-edge design.

The exterior styling was particularly challenging because the owner required headroom on every deck of 2.45m, meaning deck-to-deck heights far greater than on comparable vessels. Cleverly, the flowing lines of Palladium’s exterior disguise her overall height.

‘In our opinion, before the stylist came along motor yachts were designed in profile with little thought for the 3D shape,’ explains Leach. ‘Our car styling background has enabled us over the years to develop ever more exciting 3D shapes. From the early days of working for Disdale on projects like Montkaj and Tigre d’Or and [Michael Leach Design partner] Mark Smith working on Eco for Martin Francis, this has led us to develop our own yachts Solemar and Anna, and our ultimate 3D expression – Palladium.’

Our car styling background has enabled us over the years to develop ever more exciting 3D shapes, says Michael Leach.

Palladium was designed from the inside out. The vessel’s extra height necessitated more beam for stability – 20m compared to the 16m of a normal yacht of this size. Here was a rare chance: the interior volume was big enough that extra beam could be used to create dramatic hull features harmoniously linking to overhanging balconies with a cross-sectional curvature that had never been achieved before.

‘Cars are designed in 3D by designers sculpting foam models, painstakingly removing anything that’s not the car in their minds,’ says Leach. ‘They constantly twist and turn it as they refine it to catch the light and judge the angles. In the same way, we passionately shaped Palladium in foam – model after model.

‘I remember the day when I was with the model maker finishing off the final foam model, and that last little tweak with the sandpaper,’ Leach continues. ‘She looked sensational. It was then down to Matthew Kelly, our in-house naval architect, to convert the foam model into a computer model using laser scanning. It was so refined, the yard used it for their construction.

‘The yard was amazing, never grumbling at the task of engineering that amazing shape into metal. There were hiccups along the way but Mark was there at the yard to solve the problems.’

Whale-fin aerofoils at the back of Palladium's mast deflect exhaust fumes away from the deck areas.

The smooth, natural lines created by this process of refining meant that special care was required to ensure exhaust fumes did not affect living areas.

‘Because she was so stylised we were concerned about the shape sucking the air down on to the aft decks more than normal,’ says Smith. ‘We wanted a sleek, low profile, so we didn’t want the exhaust too high.’

The answers were found in a wind tunnel, where Smith and the shipyard engineers spent two days testing the vessel. They made a number of changes to improve aerodynamics and air flow, including adding aerofoils to the back of the mast.

‘Although it looks like a stylised boat, it’s very functional and very purposeful,’ he says.

Leach was able to apply the same practical approach to the design of the yacht’s living areas. He designed the owner’s previous yacht and so had eight years of constant feedback including many trips aboard the owner’s boat, where he and Smith observed how the owner and his guests used the yacht. The trips, combined with talking to his crew, sowed the seed for his new yacht.

Palladium dining table at Silverling workshop

‘We never saw him use the formal main-deck lounge on his previous boat, so on Palladium it has been turned into a very relaxed extension to the aft deck,’ says Smith.

In this way Palladium represents a new approach to superyacht design, and more importantly a new attitude towards owners. The owner’s life is at the centre of this project, from the layout to the finishes – creating tactile surfaces that really can be touched was an important design theme from MLD. Like a tailored suit, true luxury is cut to fit an individual, and Palladium is masterpiece of bespoke design.

Innovative concepts always push practical boundaries, and Palladium’s interiors certainly challenged traditional furniture-making practices. Creating the interior’s complex organic forms demanded artistry, but constructing them to withstand the everyday knocks of yachting life also required innovation and patience.

‘With the interior furniture we knew we had to choose someone who was prepared to spend time to develop new ways of production,’ says Michael Leach.

The team turned to Silverlining, a bespoke furniture company known for its craftsmanship and innovation.

Palladium super yacht cabinet construction

Working on furniture for superyachts and luxury homes, Silverlining is often asked to create fantastical pieces that push methods and materials to their limits. Fittingly, the beautiful but tough finishes required for Michael Leach Design’s wear-and-tear solution represented something of a design revolution in themselves.

These resilient materials opened up the way Palladium’s furniture could be used. For example MLD and Silverlining bordered a coffee table with padded leather, encouraging people to rest their feet on it – something only practical because they used tough coach hide leather (the kind used on saddles).

‘The process of finishing this coach hide means you get a surface colour but also, if it’s scratched, it’s the same colour all the way through,’ says Alex Hull, head of the design team at Silverlining. ‘What you end up with over a period of time is like an old desktop with all the marks of use. It just becomes part of the character of the piece of furniture.’

The pragmatic idea of creating furniture that accrues character and actually improves with use is central to the organic theme of the design.

‘A good leather wallet or a piece of Louis Vuitton luggage looks better as it becomes more worn; a sea-worn pebble is beautiful,’ says Mark Boddington, founder of Silverlining. ‘Nature gets it right.’

Palladium’s challenges, however, also required some man-made solutions. The six metre long dining table, which appears to grow out of the floor, was a particular problem. The deck was not reinforced, so the table’s weight was limited to 220kg.

Palladium coffee table sketch Michael Leach Design

‘To create a base you could stack up wood and spend ages shaping it – but you’d need 20 people to lift it in the end. The weight restriction drove us to look to different techniques,’ says Hull.

MLD inspired the use of a hollow carbon fibre structure, built by a company that makes cockpits for Formula 1 cars – and they moulded a suitably streamlined structure, later sprayed with a cracked metallised finish by a company called Based Upon. On to this Silverlining fixed a burr walnut top with cross-banded ebony. Extraordinarily, two people can lift the whole table easily.

The result of this and other innovations is beautiful, touchable furniture. ‘If you sit at the dining table all you want to do is run your feet up that radius. Similarly on the coffee table the front edge is leather, so you want to put your soles on it,’ says Mark Smith, partner at MLD.

While some yacht interiors still feel like museums – handsome but untouchable – Palladium shows that a yacht interior can be both beautiful and practical – something you can put your soles on to, as well as your soul into.

Originally published: September 2011

Photography courtesy Michael Leach Design and Silverlining

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