Rendering of a blue superyacht with red detailing
All Photos: Courtesy of Vitruvius Yachts

Zaha Hadid Architects Helped Design a Superyacht for the Royal Family—But It Was Never Built

A collaboration with Vitruvius Yachts and Ocea UK, the design was short-listed to replace The Royal Yacht Britannia

If you’re a fan of deconstructivist architecture and water sports, you may be familiar with Zaha Hadid Architects’ (ZHA) Unique Circle Yachts, a collection of five superyachts the firm unveiled in 2019. Undeniably bold, the boats are strong, imposing, and when they do grace the water, they’ll be hard to look away from. But what you might not know is that the firm also worked on another yacht concept—one designed for the royal family. 

In 2021 Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced plans to build a national flagship yacht, which would have been used for trade fairs and diplomatic events, according to the BBC. The new vessel was intended to replace The Royal Yacht Britannia, which was decommissioned in 1997 following 44 years of service. However, in November of last year, the plans were scrapped, partly because the country wanted to allocate funds toward research and surveillance ships as well as safeguarding national infrastructure following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

A rendering shows the boat passing through Tower Bridge. 

Still, when the plans were in motion, various naval architecture firms submitted proposals for the UK’s flagship, including the Vitruvius Yachts, Zaha Hadid, and Ocea UK team. “Designed to be fit for a king,” as the project description states, the submission was shortlisted, but with the project ultimately canceled, images of the vessel were never shared publicly—until now. 

Vitruvius Yachts recently released renderings for the could’ve-been boat as well as a look into the design process from the three collaborators. “All design contributors were keen to capture the essence of UK heritage and embrace a forward-thinking and innovative approach to the design of the flagship with sustainability at the core,” Vitruvius’s website reads. The vessel, which is outfitted in the colors of the Union Jack, more closely resembled The Royal Yacht Britannia than ZHA’s Unique Circle Yachts and was designed to be built from recycled aluminum and powered by biofuels, hydrogen, and wind. “The nature and intensity of the project kept me focused but also filled me with pride, not just in the design process itself but for what the flagship stands for,” Philippe Briand, a yacht designer at Vitruvius Yachts, said in a statement. 

All design collaborators hoped to honor the heritage of the UK with the superyacht design. 

Inside, the interiors reflect the heritage of the UK, with flexibility at the forefront for the design team. A large formal dining room, for example, can be reconfigured to accommodate breakout rooms with a movable partition. Other interior spaces included a demonstration area for trade shows, medical facilities, a science lab, and office space. 

“The flagship collaboration was an incredible opportunity to act as an architect realising the design of a project that was hugely complex, because it aims to represent not the tastes of one person but the essence of an entire nation,” Briand continued. “That is actually way more difficult than designing for even the most demanding individual.”