5 Minutes with Gerard Ronzatti
As the oldest vessel in the Bateaux London fleet, the Symphony has become iconic to the river Thames and recognizable to most. She runs most days for our restaurant cruises and offers great options for Private Dining and Exclusive Hire. Built 25 years ago by the Parisian architect, Gerard Ronzatti, and his team, she was originally designed to cruise in Paris and did so for a year before she was transferred to London. We were lucky enough to welcome Gerard and his team for her 25th anniversary. We asked Gerard a few questions about the vessel’s history.
Hi Gerard, the Symphony really stands out on the river Thames, did you know the Symphony was going to be so unique?
As architects, our approach to boat construction is different to the regular process and was very iconoclastic at the time. Traditionally, boats are built in shipyards and based on a standard design. Interior designers would only step into the project when the hull is designed and the technical aspects are defined. This usually means that the end product is dictated by the shipyard’s original plan.
We as architects, wanted to keep control of all the aspects. As much as this project was a boat, it really was primarily a floating restaurant. We wanted to keep in mind the end product, focusing on the end customer’s experience. This is what I call 'lifting the budget gravity'. Often, a large part of the budget is invested below the deck, so we wanted to have a greater balance in order to optimize the customer’s experience; therefore to invest as much effort into what was above the deck, in other words, the restaurant.
So how did you achieve this?
We wished to initiate the project with our own engineers, our own designers and rethink the entire conception. As much as this new project needed to cruise up and down the Thames, we didn’t want to neglect the ‘restaurant element’ and this became the focus of our work. It had to be a beautiful project but it also had to be practical and serve its business purpose. As an example, the restaurant manager at the time was very involved in the project from the moment we started the design.
How did this idea become the Symphony as we know it?
As for every client, we asked Sodexo to share their ideas and concepts, and tell us how they imagined the boat. However we did not want any instructions for the design of the boat. We needed to understand what they had in mind, even the most abstract ideas.
As we wished to offer a great space and prioritise the views, it became obvious that the boat had to be all-glass. We also wanted to free the front of the boat where the views are best and reallocate the captain cabin – which is often located the bow. This is how it almost looks like an aircraft carrier. It has large and continuous water-levelled space and towards the middle, a higher control Tower.
Unlike other boats, it didn’t need to be aerodynamic so we wanted a large section, with a bold square cut at the front. We knew this would create a larger capacity on board and enhance the flexibility of the boat within.
On the other hand, we obviously couldn’t neglect the ‘boat aspect’ of the project and its related technicalities; the floatability and the stability of the vessel were crucial. Her hull got a filed patent, as we assembled different segments of steal together, ensuring the cruising is smooth and the boat remains stable.
Was the design of the Symphony similar to other work you had done?
No, of course it was very different! Firstly, it was the first boat I personally got to design. I had designed other floating buildings but a boat is different. A boat is somehow organic, with its own independent, coherent ensemble. All the elements are combined and nested to become one self-sufficient structure.
This project was a stepping stone for us. We have since designed the whole Paris fleet at Bateaux Parisiens, and even designed for Bateaux Dubai and Bateaux New York!
To this day, Symphony remains very dear to us and has printed a very special memory. This is why we really wanted to come to London and celebrate her 25th birthday on board!
Oh, you seem involved in all the possible dining experience projects, are you running out of ideas yet?
Definitely not, we have loads of ideas for London in fact! A London-styled vessel is still to be invented! The Symphony is quite rightly called a ‘Parisian vessel’, it was invented for Paris and resembles a lot of the vessels that cruise on the river Seine.
London has changed so much over the last 2 decades, it needs its own boat that looks like no other. It would be a boat that mirrors the city, innovating and bold, modern and magnetic.
It sounds that will never get tired of designing and get inspired by the river Thames! Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.
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