Architect Michael K. Chen is renowned for creating stylish, compact homes—and he just unveiled his latest endeavor: a 600-square-foot luxury residence on the largest private cruise ship in the world. Playfully named Pied-à-Mer, the holiday apartment is awash with nautical-inspired midcentury modernist influences—drawing particularly upon Le Corbusier’s ocean liner–like 1952 Unite D’Habitation.
The sleek design morphs from a spacious one-bedroom for a globe-trotting couple to a two-bedroom dwelling large enough to accommodate visits from the clients’ adult children.
The key to the design is a series of prefabricated pod-like volumes that organize the apartment and contain hidden elements, such as the fold-up cantilevered beds and integrated appliances.
"Much of what you see was prefabricated in Austria and installed in a five-week period in Spain," says Chen, who took advantage of the ship’s dry-dock maintenance period and hired yacht builders to create most of the custom architectural elements. "All of the ribbed cladding and pods, all of the cabinetry, and functional elements like the beds were prefabricated. The fold-down table was fabricated in New York and shipped to dry dock; much of the rest was made in Austria."
In a nod to Le Corbusier’s "machine for living" concept, the custom-fabricated pieces are finished in cool blue and gray-toned ribbed aluminum for a "slightly machine aesthetic." To provide warmth and contrast, the apartment is dressed in highly tactile materials ranging from lacquered millwork and stone surfaces to soft fabrics such as mohair, velvet, and suede.
"Rounded forms, tough but elegant materials, translucency, reflectivity, and tactility were important to us," explains Chen. "We wanted the furnishings to make it clear that you are on a seafaring vessel, but primarily through materiality and subtle details—soft forms, crisp edges, and balanced heft and lightness."
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In addition to the challenge of designing within a small footprint, the architects also had to meet enhanced safety requirements for cruising in constant motion.
"It’s always a challenge to create these transforming elements and to make sure that the motion is smooth, effortless, and precise," says Chen. "That’s exponentially more difficult on a ship where there is no clear straight up and down. We had to rely on our contractors and fabricators to build everything extremely precisely, and we had to design around the inherently greater tolerance that one has to assume on a moving vessel."
"It’s just another challenge that we don't ordinarily face on land," Chen continues. "It was all super interesting, though. We learned so much about complex installations and difficult and fast construction on this project, and we fully expect it to inform how we devise future projects—whether seafaring or landlubbing."
Builder/General Contractor: List GC
Lighting Design/Interior Design: Michael K. Chen Architecture
Cabinetry Design/Installation: List GC
Metal Fabrication: Rush Design
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