Q&A: Viking Ocean's Architect Creates a New Kind of Ship

by  Laura Motta | Oct 20, 2016
Viking Star Wintergarden
Viking Star Wintergarden / Rottet Studios

Architect Richard Riveire of the firm Rottet Studio had designed Viking's longships, but in 2013, he was asked to develop an entirely new product for the cruise line -- an ocean ship. He sat down with us in the Wintergarden of his first oceangoing vessel, the Viking Star -- now the template for all of Viking's ocean ships -- to discuss why this ship is different than anything else at sea. 

ShermansTravel: Your background isn’t in designing cruise ships, but in hotels.

Richard Riveire: Our firm really specializes in hotels at the five-star level -- Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Langham, Conrad. Our very first hotel was the Surrey in New York. It was actually named Travel + Leisure’s number one hotel in New York this year -- pretty amazing, considering that it’s eight years old. From there, we went on to do work at the Beverly Hills Hotel and the St. Regis in Aspen. Now, we’re working on a Conrad in Washington, D.C., a Ritz-Carlton in San Diego, and a new Langham, in a Renzo Piano building in San Francisco.

Viking Star; The Restaurant / Rottet Studios

ST: What was your experience with cruising?

RR: When I was hired, I had never been on a cruise in my entire life. And if you don’t count the Queen Mary in Long Beach, I’ve never been on a cruise ship in my entire life. [Viking Chairman and CEO Tor Hagen] recognized that Viking Ocean was going to be something new, so he wanted to look at things with fresh eyes. As an outsider, it seemed to me that the cruise industry was a very small group of people -- the shipyards, designers, suppliers, and contractors. And given the technical requirements of an ocean ship, it’s understandable. But it was interesting to come into it and say, 'What can we do that’s new? What can we do that will maybe challenge the mantras of the industry?'

Viking Star Spa Pool / Rottet Studios

ST: How is this different from a hotel project -- besides the obvious?

RR: With resorts, you’re generally focused on the thing that’s there in front of you. Maybe it’s the ocean, or a great landscape, or the mountains. This is a different world. Here, you open the window every morning and you’re someplace new. In architecture, we try to be very cognizant of location, and to build off of that. But here, the location could be anything! It could be Istanbul or Bergen. So our idea was more about returning to something. How do you come back home? How do you come back to a world that still surprises and delights every night, but not so much that you’re being hit over the head.

ST: Where can we see that on the Viking Star?

RR: Viking’s tagline is Exploring the World in Comfort, and I took it very seriously, particularly in thinking of those two things as a dichotomy -- exploration and comfort. You don’t necessarily think of those things as going together, but for an architect, that’s the best scenario. Because then you can ask, how do those things interact? How do they overlap? How can you use one to enhance the other? The idea of exploration is all over this ship. In fact, over there you can see two birds. [Richard brings our attention to two wooden sculptures of ravens perched above the Wintergarden -- a beautiful all-weather space near the swimming pool where afternoon tea is served.] That’s Huginn and Munnin. Given Viking’s Scandinavian heritage, I read lots of Norwegian fairy tales and a lot of stories about the Norse gods. Huginn and Munnin belong to Odin, the king of the gods. In the story, they go out and discover and explore his kingdom, and then they report back. So we created these cutouts around the Wintergarden. There's Ipanema Beach, the Statue of Liberty, the London Eye, all with the ravens flying around them. Then we created these stylized trees, which gives Huginn and Munnin a place to come home.

Viking Star Explorer's Lounge / Rottet Studio

ST: Tell me about the look of the Viking ocean ships. It’s not a typical cruise ship look.

RR: Luxury today is not about using a lot of gold, but about minimalism. This is a ship where you won’t find a lot of bright, shiny fabrics and mirrored surfaces. We like to do things in a way that’s not so outspoken. But you have to balance that with something. So we added decorative pillows, leather handrails, and wood floors, so there’s a richness in the space.

ST: Did you go out and look at any other cruise ships when you started this project?

No. It was a deliberate choice.

RR: Is there anything that you just couldn’t do, given the limitations of shipbuilding, that you really wanted to?

I always say that there’s a design solution for every problem. There are some things we would do on land that we just can’t do here. A major thing, for example, is wood. On ships, we have to worry about flammability. This ship looks like it has a lot of wood, especially in the Living Room space. But there’s actually very little wood there. I live in Hollywood, so I say it's movie magic.

Viking Star Infinity Pool / Rottet Studios

ST: What are your favorite spaces on the ship?

RR: I love the Wintergarden because I like how it carries the mythological story through to the execution. And then the mezzanine of the Explorer’s Lounge. When I’m on the ship, that’s where I like to sit. You get the forward view, and you can see the waves and the ship moving, but you’re also kind of above it all; that’s a great place for when you’re sailing in or out of port. We went into Stockholm, and the trip down the waterway toward the city was just beautiful. And Montenegro, it almost looks like a fjord, with these very high cliffs. It creates a nice backdrop for the space, which is a weird thing. I’m used to views being stationary, but you sit there and the world is moving past you. It’s a fabulous experience.

Viking Star Explorer's Lounge / Rottet Studios

ST: What exemplifies comfort for you on this ship?

RR: The whole idea of this ship is to create these small spaces where you can squirrel yourself away or curl up with a good book, but you can still sense a connection to the bigger space. There’s tons of those -- all the little library spaces, the upper deck of the Explorer’s Lounge. You’ve got a lovely chair, a cup of coffee, service, and a great view. To my mind, that’s true comfort.

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