Veronika Schmid, alongside her partner Alistair Gill, is Owner-Director of the ultra-high-end multidisciplinary studio Gill Schmid Design, the brand behind futurist explorer concepts like the 90m Taboo and the 75m Mystique. An architect by training, Schmid has crafted an illustrious career in yacht and architectural design for over two decades; she has also collaborated with world-famous artists on manufacture, and sculptural work (think: Frank Stella among them) since 2001; and she has taught advanced graduate design at Harvard, Columbia, and the Architectural Association in London.
That said, the world and the world of yachting, in particular, looks far different today than when she started out. In an HT exclusive, Schmid gives her read on everything from women in yachting, 3D and virtual reality, to a range of exciting projects in the works for GSD. Read the full interview below.
HT: Though yachting remains a male-dominated industry, women have made significant gains. Is it harder for women to excel in the industry?
VS: I obviously believe in equality, on all levels. I have worked hard to be where I am at right now. But I have always focused on what I love to do and how I can excel in the field of design, rather than who may throw hurdles in my way. Some people support you, others don’t.
I don’t think to be a woman in this industry, in architecture, or in the arts ever made me feel inferior. People see who you are and what you can do pretty quickly. I have had some great mentors (male and female), who have supported me and challenged me along the way. If I don’t excel, it is my problem and not anyone else’s. I love the work that I do and will continue to do so, regardless. GSD50-70m range New Build superyacht concept. Photo: Gill Schmid Design
HT: What’s your read on how the industry addresses diversity in general and female under-representation in particular?
VS: Inclusivity and diversity are inevitable. Yacht design, automotive design, aerospace design, architecture and other disciplines of design have been more male-dominated along with a lot of other professions. But I think change happens everywhere naturally, so I think with a fresh influx of designers, a more inclusive approach will happen automatically. I am not saying we should sit back and wait, as I am equally impatient and ambitious, but from my interactions with clients, brokers, and yards, I have always felt like the expert I am in the field of design.
To be honest, what is almost harder to overcome is the monopoly of a few well-known and established design offices categorized as the “up and coming” design office, or “the future of yacht design”. Maybe inclusivity should be seen in terms of innovation, new design ideas, and trends, rather than gender.
HT: Speaking of innovations and ideas, how would you characterize Gill Schmid’s work in yachting?
VS: Together with my partner Alistair Gill, we are equally responsible for each project we do… Both of us are architects, we have taught advanced architectural design at some of the best universities worldwide and we both have a wide range of experiences. In parallel, we have always been involved with the fabrication and design of sculptural work.
We constantly strive to be on the cutting edge of design, innovation, and technology–but always with an eye on elegant and sensible design solutions. I think within the yachting industry we are recognized for our contemporary, elegant and innovative design sensibility with a specialization in high-end luxury and smart, one-of-a-kind design solutions.
HT: What design solutions do you see driving luxury customer experience in yachting and high-end residential?
We have been working on a lot of Explorer Designs in the field of yachting, with a much more immersive approach to the environment you are in. This is what a lot of (younger) owners are asking for. It is not luxury for luxury’s sake anymore, but what this luxury can offer in terms of experience in excess of other yachting experiences. In terms of high-end residential – pretty much the same, new ideas for amenities, new ways of interacting with the environment and space.
HT: You’ve taught graduate design at some very prestigious institutions (Harvard and Columbia among them). Tell us a bit about where you think design innovation is headed.
VS: I think after a decade or two of heavily relying on computational techniques (scripted space, automated design, etc.) and being absorbed by these, we have come to realize that the human mind and human hand needs to be brought back into the design process. This doesn’t mean we need to start sketching and sculpting at every moment, but the interaction between human sensibility and the computer is one that needs to be explored. I taught a course at Harvard GSD a few years ago, which started addressing this issue, called, “The Digital Craft”.
Outside of innovations in the process of design, we also see a lot of developments in the fields of fabrication and construction. I started exploring 3D printing technologies and digital means of fabrication in 2000, so I have been at the forefront of this for almost 20 years. I am excited about the possibilities this offers to us as designers, but I am also fascinated to learn and work with experienced craftsmen who have been honing their skills and knowledge for generations.
One last concept I want to speak about is the use of virtual reality and gaming technologies for design. Designers build scale models, produce interior renderings and walkthroughs along with material samples and in some cases one to one mockups of certain aspects of the design.
What gaming or VR allows “us” as the user to do is experience the space in a non-narrative not previously scripted way. We can move around as we like. We can experience various environmental effects and really be immersed in a new environment. This is a completely new way to look at space, and the implications of this are just barely being grasped. At Gill Schmid design we started using gaming technology more than 10 years ago not only during the design process, but also for presentations with clients, brokers, and shipyards, as well as working closely with the gaming companies themselves.
HT: What projects are Gill Schmid currently excited about?
VS: We are excited about all the projects we work on. In yachting, we are currently working on a series of yacht projects commissioned by private clients, ranging from 50m to 120m, along with new yacht concepts with a series of European yards. Alongside that, we are designing a luxury golf condominium complex, for which we also act as the developers.
In the arts, we are working on some very large-scale sculptures with Frank Stella for Hudson Yards in NYC, along with some other new sculptural pieces. We have also just started designing a new furniture line of high-end limited-edition pieces of furniture and art/design objects, some of which are highly geared towards the yachting sector. We have a lot going on, and we love working on all of it.