An interview with yacht designer Ken Freivokh

Yacht designer Ken Freivokh’s Magellano T72 epitomises the open brief he has been given by Italian luxury boat manufacturer Azimut. He explains to Tom Banks how lateral thinking and an 18-hour day underpins his ethos.

At the foothills of The Alps in Avigliana, Turin, at the curiously landlocked headquarters of Italian luxury boat manufacturer Azimut, yacht designer Ken Freivokh unveils the plans for his latest commission, a 22m ‘mega yacht’.

Freivokh has an open brief from Azimut, which means that his work is largely autonomous. The relationship epitomises Azimut’s ethos. Paolo Vitelli, the company’s founder, located the headquarters in Turin because ‘he just loves the mountains’, according to his daughter Giovanna, who also happens to be Azimut’s head of corporate communication.

Freivokh’s studio is responsible for the new Azimut Magellano T72, apart from the hull, which is designed by naval engineers for optimum balance and speed. ‘Our parts aren’t designed to get wet,’ Freivokh says. It’s a big project by any standards, and his approach is one of logic, or ‘lateral thinking’ as he puts it.

‘From a teaspoon to a skyscraper, basic design principles are always the same,’ Freivokh says. ‘It’s about analysing the requirements of something and then processing the component parts and their relationship to other parts.’

Freivokh was raised in Los Angeles, studied engineering and architecture in Peru, and won a Duke of Edinburgh scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art’s school of engineering. After graduating in 1972 and pursuing a career in architecture, he switched to design, finding architecture shrouded in red tape.

Freivokh designed the ‘now taboo’ Rizla rolling machine, and numerous caravans. An experienced sailor, he turned to yacht design after a chance encounter, eventually setting up his practice in Hampshire. His back catalogue includes production boats for British yacht manufacturer Sunseeker, and high-specification one-offs, like the Maltese Falcon, which, at 88m, is the world’s largest privately owned yacht.

Freivokh came to design his first yacht when working on a project to extend the British Museum. Ordering a sailing yacht for himself, he asked the manufacturer to make several changes. ‘I insisted on changing a number of items and found that all the following customers decided to order the boat with my modifications,’ he explains.

His work soon gathered momentum. ‘The shipyard asked me to design other boats in its range, all of which won awards in London, and I started to receive requests from other companies wishing to upgrade their yachts,’ he says. For Freivokh, yacht design is most progressive when it ignores convention. The T72, for example, will use large oval-paned glass in the master cabin, which sits just a mere 30cm above the water line. Small porthole windows don’t let enough natural light in, explains Freivokh,

Measurement is paramount. ‘When you’re processing how the windows will look externally, you have to be conscious of getting the height right for looking out to sea,’ says Freivokh.

Windows are one of many details Freivokh labours over. He keeps an 18-hour day, with a team of just six working on this project. ‘At any one time we need to consider factors such as the colours, the materials, the carpets, the galley, kitchen and wheel house,’ he says. This exhaustive list has to be balanced against a brief to make a fast, practical boat that has a range of up to 2400km and offers luxury. ‘It’s a big challenge, ‘ he adds.

Freivokh’s Magellano T72 is not expected to be ready until October, when it will sell for €3m-3.5m (£2.7m-£3.1m). A walk around a similar Flybridge model at the Turin factory shows not a wasted centimetre, from cabin to deck. Lean on something and it’s more than likely to open up into a cupboard.

Maximising space in such a confined area is something Freivokh puts down to ‘experience, imagination – maybe even instinct’, though he concedes that 3D computer modelling is ‘a great help’. His secret? ‘Avoid corridors and wasteful spaces, and promote the enjoyment of major spaces for a multiplicity of uses,’ he says.

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