Frank Gehry’s Yacht Is a Masterclass in Sleek Design

Text by Michael B. Dougherty
Images by Cody James courtesy of Gehry Partners

Swooping, curving, undulating. In his 60 years as an architect, Frank Gehry has established a signature design language for his many, many high-profile projects, from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to the Fondation Louis Vuitton. And while the forms themselves are instantly recognizable as Gehry’s hand, the inspiration behind them may not be. 

If Gehry’s work often appears to be caught in billowing motion it’s because, next to architecture, the 93-year-old’s lifelong love has been sailing. So when the New York real estate developer and former client of Gehry’s, Richard Cohen, asked if his friend would like to design a competitive super-yacht for him, the answer was obvious. What wasn’t as apparent at the onset was how the project would ultimately help support one of Gehry’s other passions: arts education. 

“The first step in any good boat project is finding a good naval architect,” explains Meaghan Lloyd, a Partner and Chief of Staff at Gehry Partners, LLP in Los Angeles. Naturally, Gehry reached out to one of the best: Germán Frers. 

A second generation boat designer, Frers’ Buenos Aires-based studio has designed over 1300 craft, which have gone on to win every major competition, including the Admiral’s Cup, the San Francisco Big Boat Series, and the Louis Vuitton Cup, to name just a few. Frers’ role was not only to translate Gehry’s vision, it was also to act as the voice of reason, lest the architect’s more fantastical impulses get the best of him. (“Don’t let me go too crazy,” Gehry was reported to have instructed Frers.)

arts appreciation through sailing in Marina del Ray

For Frank, art was a savior in his life.

Meaghan Lloyd

According to Lloyd, Gehry wanted an “old wood ship” feel with clean lines for the yacht, but wood construction adds significant weight, and Cohen desired a craft he could race. The compromise was found at the Brooklin Boat Yard on the coast of Maine, where over the course of two years craftsmen and engineers arrived at several novel solutions. Wood was layered with carbon fiber to create a “sandwich” which was then wrapped around a foam core, resulting in the warm, timeless look Gehry sought while also not compromising function. 

By far the most challenging, and striking, aspect of Gehry’s design are the multiple daylights on the hull and deck. No mere portholes, these latticework structures of glass and teak are rendered in Gehry’s signature wavvy style. But glass robs a hull of its strength, and with 800 pieces intended for the deck alone, the Brooklin Boat Yard team began to worry about feasibility, and safety. 

A lab at the University of Maine assuaged their fears with hydraulic tests that confirmed the plate glass would survive intense wave pressures, and in-house designers developed carbon reinforcements to shore up the hull. The result is a magical effect below deck, where dappled sunlight plays off the interiors of the salon, full galley, master cabin, guest cabin, and crew cabin. 

“As with every kind of design project, we’re working with the engineers,” says Lloyd, looking back on the experience. “We’d ask some questions and they’d come back to us with some answers. You’re kind of finding your boundaries and finding where you can play and [where] you can’t. [Boats] have to sail, they have to float.” 

Marina del Ray yacht experience

When Gehry first laid eyes on “Foggy” (an acronym based on Frank Owen Gehry) it was at the Kennedy compound in Cape Cod’s Hyannis Port, and it was with considerable relief. Not only did it float, the 74-foot daysailer is aesthetically unlike anything else on the water, simultaneously vintage and modern. It can also move. Cohen immediately put Foggy through its paces at the Martha’s Vineyard ‘Round-the-Island Race, where it clocked the fastest time that summer. 

These days, Foggy 2, as it’s now known (Foggy 1 is Gehry’s personal craft, a Beneteau First 44.7), is docked in Marina del Rey, not far from the architect’s home in Santa Monica. It’s all part of a life that Gehry credits to his childhood access to the arts, and that’s why he’s so dedicated to ensuring that other children are afforded the same opportunities. 

In 2014, Gehry co-founded Turnaround Arts: California, a “nonprofit organization that administers the Turnaround Arts program statewide to engage, empower, and transform the state’s highest-need schools and communities through the arts,” according to its website

To help fundraise for Turnaround Arts: California, Gehry is offering the opportunity to personally experience Foggy 2. A charitable donation of $100,000 grants access to the yacht for either six hours out at sea or docked for a private event. “Frank and his wife Berta have been very generous supporters to Turnaround Arts: California over the years and have come up with many creative ways to leverage their resources to benefit the cause nearest and dearest to Frank’s heart,” says Malissa Shriver, who co-founded Turnaround Arts: California with Gehry. 

“For Frank, art was a savior in his life,” Lloyd remarks. “He wants to make sure that every child in Los Angeles has that same right.”

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