Insight: Giovanni Zuccon talks superyacht design

Written by Gemma Fottles

With 44 years of business and over 100 yacht projects under their belt, the studio of Zuccon International Project has stood firmly in the magnificent city of Rome since the company's inception. Headed by Giovanni and Paola Zuccon, they are currently paving the way for their son and daughter duo to ultimately take over… if the ever-passionate, ever-Italian Giovanni can tear himself away, that is. Here Giovanni tells us more about the history and philosophy that make Zuccon, Zuccon, and why he has decided to substantially invest in the future of superyacht design with the studio’s focused research department.

You and your wife Paola established Zuccon International Project an impressive 44 years ago this year. Tell us about the beginnings of the studio.

My wife and I were both raised in Rome have a strong personal and professional connection to the city… though I have to admit I find this unfortunate. Rome is a beautiful city but it is not as pleasant to live, that’s for sure! The nautical side of our studio began in 1976, and yes, Paola and I established the studio three years previously in the same year that we married. We met at university where we both studied architecture. I’ve always been drawn to design, and as a child I spent countless hours sketching and drawing, but I didn’t have a particular connection to yachting… that is something that has developed over time! Today we still focus on residential architecture projects, but that probably comprises around 30% of our business, with 70% solely focused on the nautical sector.

When Ferretti bought the CRN shipyard in 2000, did that open a lot of doors for you?

Yes indeed, the year 2000 was a notable milestone. We also worked for Bertram when Ferretti bought that shipyard some years previously, until the yard was sold by Ferretti. When Ferretti bought the CRN yard we started to then design more and more larger yachts. Our most recent milestones were in 2005 and 2007, when our daughter and son, Martina and Bernardo, joined the team at Zuccon International.

Both Martina and Bernardo have worked within the Zuccon team for a number of years, with the ultimate goal being that they take over from Paola and yourself. Do you have an exit plan?

For us, it was very important that both Martina and Bernardo came into the studio and, yes, eventually they will take over the family business. As for the exit plan… well, exiting is the most difficult thing to do! The entrance, introducing Martina and Bernardo to the company, has been easy. But leaving is another thing altogether. If I’m honest, I don’t want to leave!

I can tell you that the entrance is not easy! Our parents are helping Bernardo and I by working alongside us and guiding us, but it is a big responsibility for my brother and I to maintain the reputation of the studio whilst also making something different and fresh from what our parents have built up over the years. We’re making the transition in leadership very slowly so that we can be certain that we can continue the studio’s success. It is not easy to run a successful design studio and the best experience you can get is on the job, day by day. It’s the only kind of school you can go to learn this.

You’re also in the process of building a new office in Rome, designed by Zuccon, of course. This is a huge investment of both time and money - what prompted you to undertake the task?

Paola and I over the years have moved around several offices, and by 1984 we had bought the current premises in which we sit. Last year we began building a new headquarters - it’s going to be beautiful! It will be ready in one year’s time. There are going to be huge parking spaces for the team, nice surroundings, beautiful vistas of Rome, a swimming pool, a tennis court… and there will be a park around it. Oh, and the new studio will also be for Paola and I to enjoy, so we’ll never really be gone! Together with our team we are taking care of the design, and, in addition to our work, there will also be an association that is specifically focused on research and development.

ZED research - your R&D department - was introduced last year. Does this focus on the department in the new building mean that you will be investing more in this side of the business?

Yes. We will invest approximately the 15% of our total turnover into ZED research. We’re now studying new philosophies and new content that will be put into new projects... Zuccon International is selling ideas. What happens is that almost all the shipyards do not wish to invest in research. All they are asking for is projects, and in a short period of time they want to have new projects. So since the shipyards are not doing any research at all, we realised that we had to it ourselves. It’s something that works - research and projects, hand-in-hand.

Do you think more people need to invest in R&D in order to progress the industry?

Well, after visiting the latest shows, I’m trying to understand many elements of design that people are bringing to the fore. I mean, shipyards and designers are producing boats that lack any design logic at all. At Dusseldorf I saw a black yacht. A black yacht! You can cook an egg on a black boat that’s been under the sun. I also wonder why there are these new forms of boats where you can barely figure out how to get on board. These observations are really part of my academic view: there is good design and there is bad design. If you design something that is beautiful but it is not practical, then you have created a sculpture, not a piece of architecture. Yachts have to be pieces of architecture.

Shipyards, designers and all owners will have to make an effort in the coming years, and bring the original condition of a yacht vessel to back to life. This is the philosophy that Paola and I are encouraging Bernardo and Martina to bring to the studio when they eventually take over. The automotive industry, the aviation industry - they are all far more advanced than the yachting industry. This is because they do a lot of research. It is a problem within the culture. I mean, the industry is indeed small, but that shouldn’t count as a justification to not invest in research. I’m investing in the research myself, and I hope that by talking to others in the industry about it more people will follow.

You mentioned working with the Ferretti Group, and you’ve worked a lot with the Group over the years in a very fruitful relationship. Do you think that working so closely with the Ferretti Group has limited you in some ways?

Personally I feel that the positive outcomes vastly outweigh the negative aspects of this relationship. One of the main contributors to a good design lays in the relationship between the designer and the shipyard. We managed to experiment a lot with Ferretti, and we’ve grown with them over the years to where they are today as the Ferretti Group. Over the years, we had the opportunity to collaborate with two persons: Norberto Ferretti for the Italian superyacht industry, the only person in the world that I know of that could build a boat from beginning to end with his own hands, and Lamberto Tacoli, whose abilities and specific expertise are really unique.

The negative aspects… well it is the problem of having one customer only. If you are working only for one client you cannot allow yourself to disagree, necessarily, with this client. We chose to work with just one client, but we also work in other aspects of architecture and design. When the nautical industry went through the Crisis that also meant we had something to fall back on. We do not want to be limited and without a doubt if we were not working with Ferretti we would be working with different people and other shipyards… and that is what we will be doing in the future for sure.

How will Ferretti cope with that, as many Italian yards are quite fierce competitors…

This is true, they are fierce competitors. As a professional rule, we have decided to never undertake competing projects. That is an ethical choice. In the next few years we will of course work with different projects and different shipyards, and we will be working out the practicalities of that as we go into the future. In the last months we have received a lot of requests from shipyards. In the past, our answer has always been no… but we’re looking at changing this in the near future.

Can you tell us why the change in heart after all these years?

There is new management in the Ferretti Group that sometimes disagree with Giovanni Zuccon’s ideas, but now they work very well with Bernardo.

Can you tell us more about what we can expect in the immediate future?

Probably the newest project from us, the 74-metre Cloud 9, is one of my most memorable. In two years CRN will launch the larger project, and she will probably be even more beautiful. It’s always the next one that is the most beautiful. Other than that, we have the Superconero 50 with CRN, as well as some 50+ metre projects in the pipeline but I’m afraid we can’t tell you more!

The full interview with Giovanni Zuccon was published in a recent edition of the SuperYacht Times newspaper. Subscribe now to receive your copy straight to your door and never miss another issue.



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