He completely restored his boat when he was still an architecture student. Today he works both in the residential and marine industry placing careful attention to the naval tradition even in the most innovative projects.
The architect Matteo Picchio is a “yachtsman” born on the twelve footer bought by his grandfather and raised on his father’s wooden sailing boats. His first real design experience was at the start of the ’90s with the refitting of “Raireva”, his 14-metre ketch, designed by Carlo Sciarrelli in 1972. The work continued with the restoration of immaculate pedigree vintage boats and nowadays the Picchio Firm in Milan carries out the parallel work of designing both large sailing boats and residential architecture.
As an architect you design both for houses and yachts, do you ever put the two together?
My firm has architects, naval engineers and designers, but my pencil stays the same. As a method I chose to mix the two design environments together. I sometimes transfer ideas created for houses to boats and vice versa. In the field of naval design we both restore vintage boats and design exceptionally modern motor and sailing boats. In the field of architecture, we produce designs of villas, apartment interiors and the restoration of historical buildings. We even designed both house and yacht for the same client.
Could we say that before being a yacht designer, you are a thoroughbred yachtsman?
I have always been a yachtsman but if I think of “thoroughbred” then the idea of regattas springs to mind. For me a boat is something completely detached from the context of competition: a small world managed on its own, where the laws that govern the society of competition are of little use.
You handled the refitting of the “Raireva” with a self-construction design that lasted twenty months. Was it a long single-handed crossing that affected your design method?
It was an absolutely essential experience. I dealt with that project when I was twenty and an architecture student. I gained technical experience but above all it was of great psychological value: it was then that I gained the tenacity to carry forward a project.
At that time, I had just finished reading Victor Hugo’s “The Toilers of the Sea” where the main character invents extremely complicated tools to recover a vessel, such as large hoists gripping onto the rocks, or a wind powered forge that channelled its way through the rocks. I rebuilt my first boat with the same spirit.
How do you create the “right boat”?
The “right boat” is one made to measure. The “Raireva” is my right boat with stainless steel hull and Norwegian stern that make it suitable for ocean crossings. After twenty years it is still my “favourite” home. I live there four days of the week and I also carry out part of my work there. It is normally docked in Genoa and I often receive clients there in the small wardroom to discuss their large boats. A lot of important projects have started out their life there.
You claim that sailing means re-evoking the seamanship culture, in what way?
The kind of yacht in itself offers a deferment to the sailing tradition. Sailing boats are not just a kind of fun or a kind of tourism….if you decide to go to Corsica on a yacht instead of using a more practical means, then you have to expect some discomfort in order to be repaid with the fascination of sailing.
Often one finds oneself retracing ancient trading routes or sea arms where sea battles took place that determined modern day history….sailing also means re-evoking the history of the navy. This is what “cultured sailing” means.
In a previous article you resolved to achieve a balanced dual “man-boat” concept, what did you mean?
It is important to feel you are in complete harmony with your own boat. It is balance that extends to what is around us, to the people and sea, and that provides us with an immense sensation of freedom. This is when with the role of the designer it becomes essential to achieve the perfect balance between boat and owner.° The designer represents that fundamental link in the chain between the dream and its completion. I would like to point out that the success of my best projects has to be shared with the respective boat owners.
You have designed an incredible sized sloop due to be launched in two years time, is it a “right boat”?
The sloop is a forty-eight-metre mega-sailer for an Italian client whose collaboration on the project was very special. He wanted a boat for long-haul journeys and this sloop has been designed to move quickly and safely like a real sailing ship. In summer it will be in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean in the winter and every so often it will go on trips in the North Sea. We refined its shapes until we achieved an essential, elongated line to increase performance under sail. I really believe it will become the boat of his dreams.
Your lines are very slim and elegant like those on a large vintage ship, is this a re-enactment of naval tradition?
In reply, I shall quote Renzo Piano “ a good project starts with one hand tied to the past and one stretching out to the future”. The project work on the sloop 48 stemmed from a combination of naval tradition and hyper-technology. °The forty-eight metre long hull was made of light alloy while the mast that is more than sixty metres high, is a single piece of carbon fibre.
The deck in teak is “flush-deck”, that is, completely free. The deckhouse is small and square-shaped and deliberately non-aerodynamic as an explicit reference to yachts from the past. The interiors are spacious and completely free thanks to structural elements in light alloy. We made use of modern materials, not commonly found as yet in pleasure sailing.It will be a sturdy and very fast boat made to sail easily in any sea around the world.
Nowadays, large yachts often have a hyper-functional stern while the stern on this sloop has kept a clean-cut, tapered line, is this another tribute to tradition?
The reference is correct. The stern on our sloop is clean-cut and tapered but we also managed to make it functional. Its central part slopes down into the sea thanks to a hydraulic mechanism: a “stern platform” that allows the tender to come out and shuts again to recreate the formal integrity of the hull. Keeping to tradition does not mean sacrificing comfort.
Sir Thomas Lipton had a stone fireplace below deck on his “Shamrock IV”, one of the many J-class that he used for regattas during the One Hundred Guinea Cup, now the America’s Cup, that unfortunately he never won. Can you confirm that comfort comes from the non-essential, or from the presence of “useless” details. What are these details nowadays?
I would also opt to have a stone fireplace on board and never win a regatta. A large sized boat must be designed as an architectonic space: a bookcase, a professional kitchen, a “spa” or wine cellar, are the things that nowadays please our clients. A good designer must be able to interpret his client’s wishes, even when they are unspoken because they are seen as excessive or unusual on a boat.° Between the owner’s suite and the relaxation area in the bathroom, for example, we used walls that become transparent on command, to separate the two areas with a “hint” of light. The beds and furnishings almost never touch the bottom board but, in order to increase the feeling of space, float. In the bathroom we even used stone that is laid in three millimetre panels coupled with a very light material of aeronautical origins, in aluminium honeycomb.
The “”wardroom is the heart of a boat. In this sloop it is both wheelhouse and lounge, how do you reconcile this versatility of usage with the high level of comfort requested?
The wardroom on the sloop 48 stems from a compromise with the external lines; we designed it with limited proportions to keep a tapered hull, but inside it is very spacious (50m?) and rigorously essential. The deckhouse windows can be darkened to the point that they become completely opaque, thanks to a film of liquid crystal inserted in glass layers.
The internal wheelhouse and instruments constitute a real naval dashboard, but when the boat is docked or anchored it is hidden away by panels to give the wardroom a “domestic” configuration. The only furnishings are the sofas and table and they appear to be only just resting.
Which materials did you use in the interiors and with which devices?
This is a boat whose material aspect is very important. We have given precedence to tactile sensations and the perceptive heat given off by a material. The inside of the boat is finished off with “exposed planking”. In reality it is a desired effect on a counter-planking that encloses insulating material within and the technical plants.
Emphasising the internal-external relationship, the teak on deck is also used for the internal flooring, in white rubber teak rather than black. The flooring stops a few centimetres from the hull and a slice of light floods the planking to highlight the boat even from the inside.
One of your projects includes the refitting of the “Tenace”, a tugboat saved from the scrap metal yard and transformed into a yacht. What are the origins of this boat?
“Explorer vessels” are a new tendency in the field of pleasure sailing and indicate a greater awareness of historical naval heritage. The tugboat “Tenace” was built by the Solimano Boatyard in Savona and worked in the port at Genoa; at the end of its career it was purchased by a company in Monaco. My clients bought it back for the price of iron-ore just before it went to the scrap metal yard. We managed to preserve the planking and some vintage details like the portholes. The wheelhouse was changed for pleasure sailing use, while the engine, the interiors and the plants were completely redone. The work was carried out with great skill at the Sestri Naval Shipyard at Genoa, that managed to keep to the pre-arranged budget. A highly significant point.
Can we talk about a recent boom in Italian yacht design?
Undoubtedly. Italian yacht design has become a growing sector in recent years, and is competitive at international level. There are many reasons why, and not least of all because of “Italian genius”. Italy has state of the art boatyards nowadays with a sophisticated workforce of excellent designers, architects and engineers. There is no lack of foreign orders. It is a market that generates significant work and it would be a great shame to waste it.