All Aboard For Design
Rebecca Flint Marx -- Interior Design, 9/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Commissioned to design interiors for the new Staten Island Ferry, one of New York's most recognizable icons, Lacroze-Miguens-Prati Architects expected to jump through numerous bureaucratic hoops. There was one, however, that principal Eduardo Lacroze says he was pleasantly surprised to encounter: "The city gave us a mandate to make the ride a slightly more domestic experience."
Domestic isn't the first word that comes to mind at the thought of ferryboats ceaselessly transporting tired commuters and eager tourists back and forth. Though it does describe resorts and residences that Lacroze has designed throughout the Caribbean and his native South America. It was this aesthetic that city transportation officials hoped would replace the previous ferry's scarred fiberglass benches and fluorescent overheads—as well as an ambience that seemed to fall somewhere between a municipal hospital and the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Lacroze immediately set about re-creating as much of the lavish experience of jazz-age commuter yachts as he dared. Even given the obstacle of tough city maintenance standards, he says, his approach for the 36,000-square-foot Guy V. Molinari—the first of three new ferries—remained "more like something we'd do for a lounge instead of a place to sit while traveling from point A to point B." Working over the course of a year and a half with naval architecture firm George G. Sharp, Lacroze targeted his major upgrades on three components: walls, seats, and lighting.
When he chose teak-laminate wall panels, it was as much for their resistance to scratching and graffiti as for the faux-classic look. Wainscoting of plastic laminate and stainless steel furthers the nostalgic appearance by recalling the paneling of old ferries—but with a contemporary twist. For seats, he maintained the retro appeal of the old fiberglass benches but recast them in lower-maintenance high-density wood-grain plastic laminate, set in frames of cast aluminum.
Lighting was Lacroze's greatest challenge—the 7 to 8 feet of headroom, the curvature of the decks, and the steel structural components presenting one limitation after the next. He compensated by using a variety of indirect fluorescents, incandescent and fluorescent down-lights, and incandescent marine lights. "That really made the difference between the old and new ferry experiences," he says, "especially at night."
Besides keeping the lighting from seeming blandly uniform, the treatment defines separate seating areas and walkways. Lacroze also added variety overhead, alternating panels of perforated stainless steel in the center of the vessel with panels of 18-gauge laminated stainless along the sides.
His greatest coup was adding an open hurricane deck—the lone authentically historical element to survive an arduous modification process based on Coast Guard requirements, passenger focus groups, and budget constraints. With its postcard views of the Statue of Liberty and Governors Island, Lacroze likes to think of the new Guy V. Molinari as the "best free tourist attraction in town."