Caponnetto Hueber. Designing the boats that win the America’s Cup and the water taxi that crosses Paris from Valencia
18 Nov 2020 /

Caponnetto Hueber. Designing the boats that win the America’s Cup and the water taxi that crosses Paris from Valencia

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.

aulas del futuro

For this to happen, design has had to anticipate the trends. For months now, schools all over Spain, autonomous regional governments and universities have been trying to work out how to adapt their spaces to the education that is going to prevail. Investing in this return to schools will not only influence our present, it will also influence our future. Luckily, the catalogues of solutions are up to date because the business sector behind the World Design Capital 2022 has been at the international cutting-edge of design for years.


Design as an anticipation for success

How is it possible that the Italian Government has found such an immediate and achievable answer to a set of apparently unwritten needs? In the words of CEO and designer Marcelo Alegre, “designing is sensing what people will need in the future”. The studios of Alegre Design anticipate scenarios and trends (they are currently designing products for the years to come). They have clients all over the world, so much so that “in January, when we were attending trade fairs in Asia, we already noticed that something serious was going on”.


The Italian case is just one of the many that have changed the catalogue of such experienced companies as Federico Giner in recent months. This Valencian company is responsible for the green chairs many of us sat on throughout our school years. But 10 years ago, after having been in business for a century, it radically changed its business model to create the school and university furniture of the future. In the midst of a revolution in the concept of the classroom and education, their clients already have a range of solutions available to them.

The green chairs of the 21st century are also designed by Federico Giner

The investment put into the future of classrooms by Federico Giner, with designs by Alegre Design, has ensured that the company’s catalogue is more than up to date today. Even considering the health requirements relating to social distancing and easy disinfection against COVID-19. School and university furniture ready for sale right now, but which has been interpreting educational trends for years: “The tendency is to have individual spaces that are movable, safe, hygienic and easy to clean. The educational space at home is important once again because it is going to be complementary and not only because of confinement”, Nacho Caravaca, CEO of Federico Giner, tells is. They have clients all over Latin America, Africa and throughout Spain.


The decisive role of the Instituto de Biomecánica de Valencia (IBV)

The research and analysis of futures have allowed education to find answers to our current situation in the field of design. But purchases will influence an entire generation, because if there is one characteristic that unites the manufacturers of these products then that is resistance and durability. The decisive role of Valencian design is found in the final stages, when ideas, drawings and concepts have to match the human and social picture: how tall we are, how much we weigh, how we move, how we behave.


Valencian design has an ally that is as steady as it is silent: the Instituto de Biomecánica de Valencia. “Anyone who puts forward a design for a piece of furniture knows that there are certain anthropometric dimensions. We need to provide support for the back, we need to measure the distance to the ground, and we have to think about sizes, forces and shapes. We research, test and offer data, but it is the designers who make the magic happen by turning those technical data into manufacturable, saleable, sustainable and beautiful products”, explains Rosa Porcar, Innovation Director at the IBV.


Robust companies for durable classrooms: the Actiu case

The use of IBV data and results is behind products that range from Ford cars to Stadler train engines or Sp-Berner products. But it is also behind the school furniture that Alegre Design, Federico Giner or Actiu market throughout the world. Soledad Berbegal, a member of the board of directors of the latter and an executive with an excellent reputation in corporate circles, talks about a total change in Education, “finally there is an awareness of how the physical elements in the classroom greatly influence the acquisition of knowledge”. The company sells to a hundred countries.


Spaces must be flexible and not at all rigid. It’s another way of saying that masterclasses, the days when a teacher would enter the classroom, give a speech and leave, are over. Participation and co-creation are fundamental in classrooms because they breathe the world we live in outside: sharing, generating from the workshop, what can be applied and what can be piled up”. These are the reasons that lead to pieces of furniture that are “configurable, that make things easier, motivate us and are based on digital and connect-ed tools”, Berbegal adds.


Data from the present for the classrooms of the future.

Actiu, Federico Giner or Alegre Design are already working on the classrooms of the fu-ture, but today they are selling their clients school and university furniture that incorporates such present day solutions as electrification. They are working on ideas that are based on the sensorization of classrooms, where temperature, light or the available seats, all consulted telematically, configure a safe space that stimulates participation. Ideas too, that inspire or hybridize solutions, such as whiteboards that are also screens, or desks that are so easy to raise or stack that they can be put to different uses.


“There has been a total paradigm shift in education. We have gone from a system that is all about memorising, understanding and applying, to demanding other abilities: analys-ing, evaluating, and creating”, comments IBV’s Rosa Porcar. “Until the pandemic arrived, it seemed that these skills could only be resolved through ICT (information and communica-tion technologies). Now there is an inevitable focus on rethinking spaces, experiences and presence learning. During the summer we have studied classrooms for all ages with interpersonal distancing and with movable and configurable elements: how it affects con-centration and acquiring knowledge. That data is already available for companies, and it will be part of the designs of the future”, she concludes.