“Would we like to forget 2020? Of course!” joked Greg Walton, one of the four founders of Studio DADO, at the start of an interview with Cruise Industry News.
The founders quickly added that, despite all the challenges, the year was pretty good for the Miami-based design studio.
“Unlike many other firms out there, we were busy during the pandemic … We maybe had like a hiccup of a week in transitioning working from home. But really, it’s been pretty seamless. We haven’t skipped a beat with our deadlines, we’ve been able to maintain the workflow pretty accurate to how it was prior to the pandemic,” said Jorge Mesa, another founder.
And busy they were – tackling new and ongoing projects for clients like Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Oceania Cruises.
Among the most recent clients is also American Cruise Lines. For this river cruise line, DADO designed the interior of the new 195-passenger American Melody, as well as her sister ships.
“(It) is something new for us as we had not done riverboats in the past… We’ve just delivered all the construction documentation for that project, and it’s under construction as well,” said Yohandel Ruiz, a third member of the quartet. “That was really a nice surprise, something that was very unexpected to happen during that pandemic. It was a silver lining if you will.”
Normally, according to Walton, Studio DADO has two major-scale newbuilds each year and about five refurbishment projects. A lot of cruise line refurbishment work did stop in 2020 due to the pandemic, but “the newbuilds that we’re working on – and we now have more newbuilds – are ships being delivered the end of 2022, 2023 and 2024.
“And I expect that we will start getting an uptick in newbuilds again, more of them as we enter into 2021,” Walton stated. “Our scope and breadth of work that we’re doing on the newbuilds are expanding. We used to work where there’s multiple architects on a ship, but the past newbuilds that we’re working on now with Oceania and Regent, we’re the sole architect, so that work has become bigger, more involved.”
Walton said that newbuild clients have not been asking for major design modifications as a result of the pandemic, as people are now learning to look beyond the pandemic.
“Our sights are set after the pandemic, not what do we have to do during a pandemic. And I think having the vaccines on the market have brought that sort of fundamental way people are looking at this virus now,” Walton said. “A lot of people learned a lot of things from this current pandemic.”
Javier Calle, the fourth founder of Studio DADO, seconded that the pandemic taught the world important lessons. Now, in his opinion, more than ever cruise lines will be delivering their greatest products.
“Once they’re ready to sail, they’re going to make sure that they get everything right. They cross all their t’s, dot all their i’s, and they’re going to do their homework … The last thing they want is a breakout on the ship after they start sailing again,” Calle said.
Studio DADO usually works on between six to 10 projects simultaneously, which may encompass 30 to 40 different areas – restaurants, stateroom suites, theaters, public stairs, and lifts.
“Ideally, for us, we like to have (our projects) staggered, where we start the design phase of one newbuild and then, as we’re moving into implementation, we have another newbuild that’s starting up. So that they’re not all running at the same kind of schedule,” said Walton.
“But here recently, they all seem like they’re running at the same schedule,” he added, laughing.
It is usually four to five years that Studio DADO dedicates to each project – from securing a project to delivery. However, when it’s a group of sister ships, those projects can take even up to 10 years.
“You’re really wanting that when that new ship hits the water, it’s current, it’s beyond current. And it’s also something that will stand the test of time, that doesn’t look dated the day it hits the water, but it’s sort of timeless in its nature. So that’s always a big challenge for us,” Walton said.
Studio DADO has grown fast. From it being just the four founders in 2016 when it launched, it had gotten to 18 employees now.
“(We’re very proud that) that we managed to keep pretty much the entirety of our team employed through this whole pandemic situation,” Calle said.
And the plans for the future are to grow even more. Not necessarily in terms of employees, but in terms of directions of work. One potential area where the team sees expansion is river cruising.
“The work that we did this year with American Cruise Lines kind of opened the door for more future work in the river cruise industry. We think that there could be a lot of potential to participate in that arena and really bring some fresh, new ideas and designs to that market. River cruising in America, I think, is going to take off. Everything seems to indicate that it’s an untapped market,” said Ruiz.