Design covers many realities. Perhaps graphic or industrial design are the easiest to understand. But there are others, although their visibility rarely reaches the public realm. This is the case of conceptual design that, far from being the title of a university subject, is the realm of strong companies such as the international Caponnetto Hueber. Conceptual and marine design and naval architecture, where software is beginning to be substituted for the costly tests in artificial canals.
This company was founded a few years ago by Mario Caponnetto and Francis Hueber. It deals with the abstract concept of the “development and use of computational fluid dynamics”. On the computers of the seven engineers and naval architects installed in the Victory Challenge base of the Valencia Marina, the most habitual image is that of a white screen full of numbers and formulas or another more stimulating option: boats in 3D painted in primary colours. Colours that represent water friction, wind or indicate fluidity and optimum design.
Caponnetto Hueber works with specific software to design all kinds of aquatic vessels without entering the water. “A few years ago, we needed to perform tests in a 400- or 500-metre canal. Trial and error based on calculations, but it meant getting into the water. Now, we have developed projects such as the Seabubble over six months and in Valencia. All by computer. We have reached the final trials in Geneva, Switzerland, and the only problems we had were with the batteries, not with the design. It was perfect.”
The Seabubble is perhaps the most paradigmatic example of what this company is capable of doing: a water taxi that has been under trial for several months on the river Seine in Paris. An opportunity for transport with 0 carbon dioxide emissions which floats above the water with friction from the wind alone, it can revolutionise the way we move in cities with canals. “It is totally stable, it is fast and does not pollute. It is a winning project.”
Mario and Francis had already lived in Valencia for five years, since they are both responsible – from design – for four victories in the America`s Cup, after nine participations. This is saying a great deal in the Formula 1 of regattas, but from that expertise they are now looking to other fields: “We are interested in social innovation. We believe that sea transport, which represents 90% of all traffic, must undergo a change of paradigm towards sustainability.”
The specific projects of this company make it one of the limited number of corporations dedicated to naval engineering, architecture and design with good ecological performance. But their position among the key players within this very specific field is no coincidence: it is the consequence of 20 years crossing science, information technology and design for the most demanding projects. Mario Caponnetto is the author of the mega wings that now define the America’s Cup competition.
The decision together with his partner Francis Hueber to commit themselves fully to sustainability now “is related to our maturity, to our age. We are convinced that we can contribute something over and above high-level competition sports. It is also possible thanks to the maturity of the technology, which can now accumulate data and grow through machine learning”.
The legacy of the 32nd and 33rd editions of the America’s Cup, held in Valencia, also includes a series of elite teams. Sportsmen and women, engineers and naval architects, and, as in the case of Caponnetto Hueber, conceptual designers in a small market but with large budgets. With their sights set on the social contribution that may derive from the change of ecological paradigm in water transport, Hueber is optimistic: “It is a very conservative sector, but it is a late arrival and pressure from the public and from institutions is leading us to a revolution in the next few years. It has to change.”
To this end, moreover, they will try to ensure that European investments in the reconstruction of the economy post-Covid will be differential and allow them to research and apply developments in an accelerated manner.
This is the scenario being worked for at one of the companies in the city that will be World Design Capital in 2022. A change of paradigm in the design of vessels, from high-level competition to the water taxi for a small number of people. Also, for the large transport vessels designed today on white screens, full of numbers and formulas, and blue screens, more inspiring, with 3D boats painted in primary colours.
From calculation and scientific projection based on design, Caponnetto Hueber are already developing the sea transport of the future from Valencia.