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Blohm + Voss Palladium: Organic Chemistry

Chemistry between designer and client is vital for a successful outcome. Michael Leach and Mark Smith, partners at Hampshire-based Michael Leach Design (MLD), clearly had a dynamic interaction with the owner of the 312-foot Palladium. Leach and Smith, who studied industrial/transportation design a year apart at the same college, complement each other perfectly and found common ground with the owner.
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The designers at Michael Leach Design had such good chemistry with their client that the yacht owner left them with a virtual free rein to design his “jet bike platform” inside and out.

Chemistry between designer and client is vital for a successful outcome. Michael Leach and Mark Smith, partners at Hampshire-based Michael Leach Design (MLD), clearly had a dynamic interaction with the owner of the 312-foot Palladium. Leach and Smith, who studied industrial/transportation design a year apart at the same college, complement each other perfectly and found common ground with the owner. “He is passionate about watersports and will spend all day with friends on Jet Skis or windsurfers, with barely a lunch break,” says Smith, himself quite a speed freak. One of his childhood friends, in fact, is multiple World Offshore powerboat champion Steve Curtis. Curtis, who won his first title in the United States at the age of 21 and received one of the British Crown’s highest honors, also became part of the Palladium adventure. He built the two custom Cougar limousine tenders for project Orca, as the yacht was known before launch.

It was a fitting project name. Sea creatures provided the inspiration for the yacht’s fin-like appendages near the mast and overall organic forms. Easy enough for Mother Nature, but these fluid shapes are a little more complicated to realize on a yacht made of mostly steel and aluminum. Foam models were created for each one of the curves, and once the designers were happy with the results, the final version was transposed into AutoCAD. It was up to German superyacht builder Blohm + Voss’ engineers to fit these compound curves on a complex superstructure supporting huge panes of glass. It was an achievement that drew multiple accolades. Palladium is one of those significant yachts that breaks all the rules, and both Blohm + Voss and MLD scooped up many yacht design awards (seven to date for MLD).

Another challenge for the Blohm + Voss engineers had to be the garage area and its large apertures. Once the garage doors swing open, they reveal rows of windsurfers and enough personal watercraft for every guest aboard. Combined with the twin 40-knot Cougars, they can cause quite a stir when they get revved up. “At times, it resembles a Formula 1 pit lane with mechanics, instructors and wetsuits everywhere, not somewhere to relax and have a gin and tonic,” Smith says. To prevent any rogue wave from entering the garage area when the doors are up, the crew can raise bulwark doors created for that purpose.

Breaking away from a common layout, MLD moved the beach club to the main deck level, which offers a number of advantages: a relatively tranquil grandstand view of the watersports action; a swimming pool well out of sight of the prying lenses of paparazzi on tenders, and easy access to the salon and six main-deck guest suites.

Despite exquisitely crafted details and high-quality materials, the interior doesn’t seem so precious that you cannot touch it. After an invigorating plunge in the jet-equipped pool, guests are not afraid to walk through the main-deck salon and dive onto the oversized sofas to enjoy the view through floor-to-ceiling windows. Low bulwarks were deliberate, here too, allowing light bouncing off the water to shine inside. Another key design decision here was to centralize all pipes and ducts into a single stack, opening the space further.

The lounge bar has a disco station and all the furniture can be moved outdoors to free up space for a dance floor. Its 150-inch plasma screen works great in the daytime. To port and forward of the lounge is an easily accessed spa equipped with sauna, steam room and massage facilities. Tying the whole design together are two spectacular atria, one on each side. Large wall mirrors, stepping stones of backlit onyx looking like molten lava, glass stairs and thick-planked wood soles all complement each other in an energizing décor that encourages exploration. The way that Leach has worked from the inside out and back again is really quite brilliant.

The main-deck guest cabins also sport huge windows—here horizontal panes provide guests with panoramic views whether they are standing or lying in the bed. Fixed and multifunctional furniture by Silverlining flows harmoniously around each room. The entertainment cabinet also serves as a desk, a wardrobe and a chest of drawers. A drawer fridge allows for a cool drink at any time of day or night. The bathroom provides an invigorating experience with its oversized stall and electronically controlled rain showers. Bianco crystal marble covers walls and floors, and the organically shaped basin is made of amber onyx. Above these six VIP rooms is the owner’s deck.

Entering the inner sanctum of the owner’s bedroom is only for a handful of privileged few. The owner wanted height and he got it: Walking inside the room is like walking into a theater. It feels like the overhead electric blinds might open one starlit night to reveal Angelina Jolie rappelling down from the overhead glass roof. Twin organic Helical leather-clad pillars, hand-stitched in situ, flank a bed with a 57-square-foot mattress that is the room’s focal point.

The view ahead, at waist height, is of a perfect expanse of teak as all the foredeck hardware has been hidden. There is access to a private terrace and to an oversized corridor with an uncluttered feel that leads to the nanny cabin and the rest of the owner’s apartments—the owner’s dining room and a private lounge with fluffy cushions.

Each item here is worthy of a design award and indeed the dining table has won one. It boasts a 20-foot-long, massive-looking top resting on a carbon-fiber base finished in a metallic paint. Rising gently out of the floor and ending in a knife-edge shape, the base is perfectly crafted for guests to rest their feet against it. F1 engineers actually checked the whole structure to make sure that vibrations would not disturb the table’s honeycombed core.

This space discreetly converts to a conference room. European walnut burl, Makassar ebony and walnut inlays conceal the aluminum and carbon fiber underneath that house cabling for laptops. Silverlining built most of the MLD-designed pieces in this area. The coffee table, just as the dining table does, appears to grow out of the floor and has a beautifully tactile leather edge designed for stockings rather than heels.

It is a playful and remarkable interior that meshes well with an exterior styling that was required to be “like no other.” Michael Leach Design’s goal also was to make this innovative exterior timeless. The owner, designers and shipyard pushed the boundaries during a five-year chemistry test that yielded positive results.

This thoroughly innovative yacht encouraged Blohm + Voss and MLD to collaborate on another project, a 289-foot (88-meter) yacht with similar organic qualities. Good chemistry, indeed.

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Photos by Bugsy Gedlek and Michael Maynard

LOA: 312ft. (95.15m)
Beam: 53ft. 2in. (16.22m)
Draft: 14ft. 5in. (4.40m)
Displacement: 3,998 tons
Construction: Steel hull, aluminum superstructure
Engines: 2 x MTU 16V 595 TE70L
Generators: 3 x 800kW Caterpillar 3508
Speed (max.): 19 knots
Speed (cruising): 16 knots
Range @ 16 knots: 5,000 nm
Gears: Rolls-Royce Tenfjord
Propellers: 2 x CPP Propellers (VA Tech)
Fuel capacity: 126,803 gal. (480,000L)
Freshwater capacity: 26,946 gal. (102,000L)
Watermaker: HEM
Anchor winches: Steen
Cranes: Fuchs Fördertechnik
Thruster: Brunvoll FU-37-LRC 1000
Stabilizers: Quantum XT Zero Speed
Navigation system: MX Marine (GPS)
Air conditioning: Imtech
Autopilot: EMRI
Radar: Kelvin Hughes-Manta Digital
Interior: Metrica
Furniture: Silverlining
Tenders: Cougar Marine
Naval architect: Blohm + Voss
Exterior design: Michael Leach Design
Interior design: Michael Leach Design
Classification: Lloyd’s, Cayman Islands
Builder: Blohm + Voss, 2010