Meet Joe Farcus, Ship Architect


If you have ever sailed on a Carnival or Costa inaugural cruise, while the passengers wax enthusiastically about every detail they see, there is an exceedingly good chance that the man personally responsible for creating those details is watching you and your fellow passenger's reactions to them. That man is Joe Farcus, ship architect & designer for Carnival Corporation, renowned in the cruise world for creating the most unusual, creative, daring and sometime outlandish cruise ship designs ever. For the passengers, a new ship is the embodiment of the theme envisioned by the master designer, but for Joe Farcus, the master himself, that moment -- when the reins are passed to the Captain and the crew, and the passengers breathe life into the personification of his ideas and imagination -- that very moment is when the concept makes the metamorphosis from a project to an actual cruise ship.

See Joe's Designs:   Carnival Legend,   Carnival Spirit,   Carnival Victory

Joe started his association with Carnival with the cruise line's founder, Ted Arison, father of today's company chieftain, Micky Arison. His first ship project for Carnival was almost 30 years ago, redecorating the original Empress of Britain to become Carnival's second cruise ship (after Mardi Gras), the Carnivale.

His second project was much more elaborate; a $30 million renovation of the S.A. Vaal, a South African ocean liner, into the 38,000-ton Carnival Festivale, then the biggest cruise ship in Miami. By adding an additional deck for passenger cabins and public rooms, alternating between tropical themes and a red & black saloon motif with hundreds of Tivoli lights everywhere, the ship proved a huge success and Joe Farcus' role as chief architect and designer for Carnival Cruises has been firmly established to this day.

On the cusp of an announcement that several Carnival ships now feature onboard videos of Joe giving tours of some of his most elaborate Carnival ships, we conducted this interview with him...

CruiseMates: How did you get started designing ships?

Joseph Farcus: I got started about 31 years ago when I met Ted Arison, Micky's father, and began working on Carnival's second ship, T.S.S. Carnivale. I was working for the architect Morris Lapidus at the time, but was put in charge of this project. I got to know Ted well at this time, as well as him getting to know me. About a year or so later he gave me my start after I left Lapidus. He had invited me to attend some non-committed planning meetings on what would become the Festivale. After the first day I worked all night long to design the main lounge and the restaurant so that I could present the designs the next morning, which I did. A couple of weeks later Ted called me and told me to be in Monte Carlo (where his office was) and have designs ready to speak with ship yards. I did it, even drawing while flying to Monaco. That began a continuous relationship for the next almost 30 years.

Joe's Festivale Design:

Did you prefer to work on the smaller ships of the past, versus,now, designing the mega ships of today?

Joseph Farcus: No preference. Each has its own good things about them. I like designing new ships or prototypes the best because of the space planning challenges I mentioned earlier. I am an architect first, so this work is the closest to my heart in a way.

Did growing up in Miami, and did the Art Deco area inspire you on any of your many ship designs?

Joseph Farcus: I grew up on Miami Beach, which was a blessing to me, because I feel that living in this tourist environment gave me some inherent understanding of what people like in a holiday. When I was a teenager I cruised the beach hotels and saw the fantasy world that they were. I worked in a hotel and the life percolated into me.

Inspiration, though, comes more from art and history than local color. My education as an architect at the University of Florida included quite a lot of authoritative architectural history, which blended well with my overall general interest in all aspects of history. It has resulted in a very broad palette from which to draw inspiration. Additionally my travels have amplified this. Of course my artistic talent creates its own inspiration, as it were.

In addition to the interior design, to what degree are you involved in the ship's architecture?

Joseph Farcus: I do the ship design from the inception of the project. Not many architects are doing this, but I instigate designs and create the actual plans for our new ships and projects. Actually the most important and difficult part of a project is the space planning, as the excitement and functionality of the vessel is completely dependent upon a good general arrangement plan and really has nothing to with the interior design and decoration. It's extremely complex to weave together the passenger's needs and desires, the structure, the safety requirements, the mechanical equipment, and the service and guest circulation. It's a 3 or 4 dimensional chess game or puzzle.

Whom do you admire in the world of design, what real-life examples would you credit as inspiration for what you do?

Joseph Farcus: The architect whom I admire most is Antonio Gaudi, the Catalonian architect famous for his work in Barcelona. His blending of technical skill and personal artistic vision has been a role model for me. I think the artist's hardest challenge is to create a personal style which is not derivative of others. Gaudi certainly achieved this goal and it is one that I strive for.

When I received my first commission, as mentioned above, I bought all of the books I could find about ships. Really, the only books available were of the famous trans-Atlantic liners, since all cruise ships back then were basically converted from ocean liners. In studying those books I found that, at least in the first class accommodations, that a fantasy world was created, in a way to make the passengers feel they were in a great hotel, rather than on a ship. I felt it was very important (and still feel) to do both things; so that guests aboard my ships feel the fantasy, but still have communion with the sea.

Are your designs 100% finished before building begins, or are they usually works in progress completed in the shipyard?

Joseph Farcus: The planning work for new prototype ships has to be completed before construction. However the interior design concept often is not finished before actual construction begins. That's especially true today because schedules are much tighter. We are constantly working on several ships at one time coordinating various construction and finishing points. This extends right to delivery.

Do you ever change your mind after you see something in reality that seemed different on paper?

Joseph Farcus: No, never.

What do you consider your best design, which is the one you would to tear out and start from scratch?

Joseph Farcus: It's a situation that doesn't occur. To design in my fashion I have to have supreme confidence, as what I'm designing is different from anything else I have done before and is in the end my opinion of what is good and will work. So a good deal of personal faith is required. Obviously some things work better than others, but none fall into the category of start over from scratch. If this were the case and I worried over that, then I think I couldn't do what I do. It just wouldn't work. Further I don't look at a ship as series of designs. Rather I see it as one composition of different parts. The ship is intellectualized and projected in that fashion, which helps me focus the creation along these lines. As to the best design, I don't really feel that way either. I'm always the most excited by the latest design, which hopefully is the result of my experience and is then the best of my thinking at the present. This doesn't diminish previous work, but rather keeps an eye on the future, which is a place I'm always interested in.

When you do themes for many of your ships, such as "Imagination" or "Valor" - how many passengers do you think get the idea that there is a single theme to any one ship design?

Joseph Farcus: I don't know and it isn't that important, as the Central Idea, as I call it, is primary for me. It does make a very interesting story that I know guests would be interested in, as I have been told this many times by members of the media as well as Carnival folks. That situation has now been resolved though. After many years of talk Carnival has produced a series of videos, which show on most ships, that has me explaining the central Idea to those interested in it. So far the response has been very good. The Carnival people were very happy. The story is a good analogy, as I want the ship to have the interest generating capability of a good book. A real page turner.

Is there any one design idea you are saving for the perfect moment/ship in the future?

Joseph Farcus: Not really. I am constantly thinking of ideas. In a certain way I'm working 24/7 on it. However I have the confidence to know that when the time comes, the perfect ideas will come too.

Do the cruise lines give you a theme they would like to see, or is it all from your imagination?

Joseph Farcus: I have been very lucky as an architect, because I have been free to come up with concepts myself as far as Central Ideas are concerned. The Carnival or Costa people tell me what features they would like to serve their program, but this is of the nature of a particular function, like a Sushi Bar or a Chocolate bar.

Are fabrics custom created specifically for the ships? Do you design the furniture as well? Table wear, bedding etc?

Joseph Farcus: Mainly no. There are so many fabrics on the market we can always find something just right to compliment the design. We design some specialties, like stage curtains (the first newbuild by Holland America post Carnival-corp acquisition, the Statendam, features a stage curtain by Joe - and it does grab your attention - ed.). We also design all of the carpets. Loose chairs are purchased from existing designs, although we modify them when necessary. Sofas, bar stools, tables, lighting and chandeliers and built-in furniture are designed by us. Table ware and linens are purchased from existing companies.

Are there certain colors that just don't work in certain areas of the ship?

Joseph Farcus: I haven't found that one yet.

Are you ever onboard the inaugural cruises to hear firsthand the cruisers praise and to see their amazed faces when they first see the space?

Joseph Farcus: Almost all of the time. I enjoy that magic moment when the first guests come aboard. The ship immediately metamorphosizes from a building project into a cruise ship. It's no longer mine, but now belongs to the Captain, the crew, and the guests aboard. I do love seeing the amazed faces. I love to be amazed myself and that final amazement cannot come until that moment when the ship is no longer mine.

What descriptions you may have read in the press do think describe you most accurately?

Joseph Farcus: Well, just like anything there are different levels. Usually the writers that know me write very good pieces. In fact I would say that the travel media as a group is great. There's no "in your face" or bad news bent that we are used to on CNN or the evening news or morning papers.

Recently I have been getting architectural coverage, which is taken from a slightly different point of view than the travel or shipping media. An architect in Italy just wrote a piece for Costa about the Costa Concordia. I thought it was really insightful, mainly because her point of view was an architectural one and not solely related to ships or travel. It was a broader context therefore. However what I respect the most is a story where the writer listens to what I have to say then accurately quotes or paraphrases according to what my thinking was. This seems to happen in just about all cases.

Thank you, Joe, for your insights and your innovation in cruise ships.

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