Jennifer Young • December 12, 2018
Surrounded by iconic architecture in her native Rome, Francesca Bucci always dreamed of being an architect. Today, she is the president and founder of BG Studio International in New York with a vast portfolio includes high-end residential projects like the Oxford in the Upper East Side and her latest, luxury cruise ship Celebrity Flora for Royal Caribbean, where she explores how to marry sustainable, eco-friendly materials with the ship’s natural landscape of the Galapagos Islands. Here, Bucci meditates on her diverse career while looking ahead to what’s next.
How did you get into design?
I am from Rome where studying architecture is an aspiration for many young people. However, so few new buildings are built there, and I wanted to see my ideas and designs realized. I received my master’s in architecture from the University of Rome and spent my master’s thesis year at Cornell University [in New York]. This experience was so significant that it convinced me to stay in the U.S
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Growing up in Rome, you are exposed to and influenced by art and design, even if you don’t have an interest. I have always been intrigued by design because of the attention to detail it requires. As a child, I loved to come up with new ideas, and I knew that my future would involve being in a creative field.
What are some of your earliest memories of design?
Drawing cartoons on the back of my older brother’s math book. I was trying to get him interested in the subject. In my down time, I still love drawing cartoons and doodling.
What led you to start your own firm?
I am very independent and entrepreneurial, and having my own firm is something that I always envisioned. I had amazing mentors—Paolo Portoghesi, Peter Marino, and Birch Coffey. They taught me the importance of seeing the big picture and also gave me the opportunity to learn how to manage clients and present ideas. I am a problem solver and I enjoy finding and creating solutions in all aspects of the design process.
How has designing luxury cruise ship Celebrity Flora for Royal Caribbean been different from your other projects?
We have designed spaces for them on more than 25 ships, but Celebrity Flora is an exceptional and special project. This vessel is basically a mega yacht, with 50 ultra-exclusive suites, and it sails exclusively in the Galapagos Islands. Designing a ship for 100 guests as opposed to 5,000 guests requires a very different mindset. This is particularly challenging when one also factors in that the suites had to comply with care and environmental sustainability.
What did you want to create for Celebrity Flora?
We wanted every aspect of this project to be designed with regard to the environment and make sustainability a priority by specifying Galapagos Island-inspired materials wherever possible. Celebrity Flora is an exploration vessel that navigates one of the most fragile and environmentally intact places on earth. The design needed to express the Islands’ unique footprint and character, as well as convey a sense of luxury, adventure, and discovery. The overall look is serene but diverse, similar to the flora and fauna that inhabit these unique islands.
How is Celebrity Flora eco-friendly?
The use of local materials, whenever possible, the fuel, and the reduced carbon print used to operate and maintain the ship. Chocolates left overnight on guest pillows come from a local company that sources cacao from small nearby producers; the ship’s hull is painted with silicone to move her more efficiently; and food is sourced from local farmers and fishermen, which allows fresh, sustainable food delivered to and served daily while on board.
What challenges have you faced in this project?
Designing ships brings multiple physical as well as technical challenges in the process. One challenge was to design around an environment that cannot be disturbed. One example: the outdoor deck lights needed to be a certain color and specific temperature to avoid attracting insects that would otherwise travel with the ship from their natural island habitat to another island habitat. There are numerous laws and regulations that the local government imposes, and we had to be mindful of them in executing our concept and design.
You’re also working on new condominium Van Leer in Jersey City, New Jersey. What can you tell me about that project?
The Van Leer is a luxury residential building that incorporates 35,000 square feet of amenity spaces and is influenced by the energetic and growing artistic community of Jersey City. The design fuses a modern industrial with an eclectic urban aesthetic. We wanted the residents to feel at home immediately upon entering the spectacular two-story lobby. Here, rich wood floors are mixed with natural stones, warm leathers, vibrant color accents, and the sculptural bronze backdrop of the concierge desk, all complementing one another. The goal was to evoke a modern urban oasis with indoor and outdoor amenities immersed in subtle neutral hues, natural materials, greenery accents, and bespoke details.
What is the most important thing to remember when designing a project, both in terms of branding and interiors?
One has to look and prioritize spaces from the user’s point of view. Our firm specializes in hospitality and the guest experience is paramount. We always say: The guest influences our point of view as much as we influence theirs.
Is there an architect/designer that you most admire?
Zaha Hadid. She was someone who made an indelible mark in the history of architecture, both as a woman and as a creative mind
If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out, what would it be?
Your ideas may not please everyone. Stand by them!
When you’re not working, what do you do for fun?
I love to figure skate at Chelsea Pier [in New York].
What is your dream project and why?
A resort in French Polynesia, something a bit nostalgic like the Brando. I love the sea and all things nautical. I think the world is ready for a small luxury vessel and luxury resort to finally meet.
What other upcoming projects are you looking forward to?
We have recently expanded BG Studio and now maintain a dedicated hotel design division. We want to leverage our cruise ship expertise and showcase our ability to devise solutions for a compact footprint and translate this to full-scale hospitality environments. With boutique hotels and hospitality properties stressing the importance of experience and sense of place as well as offering varied amenities and F&B in one location, this is something ingrained in the cruise industry and something we have always done in our projects. We have many things in the works, including a renovation of the public spaces of the Statler Hotel at Cornell University, several New York hotel and restaurant projects and, of course, more cruise ships.
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