Q&A With Aqua Nera’s Designer David Hodkinson of Noor Design
Inspired by the majestic black river waters and lush tropical landscapes of the Peruvian Amazon, Aqua Expeditions’ brand new Aqua Nera river vessel will elevate the Amazon expedition experience through its elegant design and technological comforts, showcasing the incredible natural elements of the region. Award-winning architects Noor Design have honored Amazonian culture and traditions throughout the ship’s design, whilst retaining the contemporary, spacious, and modern principles that Aqua Expedition is renowned for.
The moody color scheme reflects the name ‘Nera’, meaning black in Italian, with the black water lagoons of the Peruvian Amazon serving as its muse. Its story is one that embraces juxtapositions of the past and present, colonial and contemporary, color and darkness. Dark wooden floors and furniture are balanced by colorful elements such as Peruvian artifacts and details from the country’s rubber boom history. The entire vessel is a testament to thinking out of the box yet still pays tribute to a strong sense of place thanks to intricate accents and local decorative materials. David Hodkinson, Design Director at Noor Design reveals seven details behind the new vessel.
1) What influenced the overall look and feel of the Aqua Nera?
With Aqua Nera we are looking at a much darker overall feel to the design, as compared to other Aqua vessels. Everything from the fabrics, natural materials, woods, veneers, and natural stones throughout are all selected to create a more sensorial, sleeker feel. We were inspired by the contrasts of shapes, colors, sounds, and textures. This is what we wanted to really bring into the boat. We’ve done that by creating a dark environment, and a contrast of colors and textures.
2) In one sentence, what do you want the guests of Aqua Nera to feel?
I want them to feel that it’s very much a designed vessel. There’s a strong sense of design in South America, in handicrafts, contemporary design, and we want guests to feel that connection. It’s something that is very current, and also very timeless. A large part of the design came from wanting to give our guests a sense of the place via design and sensual connections, through the art pieces, colors, and little touches.
3) How have you married form and function in the Aqua Nera?
With the Aqua Nera, we were a bit more daring in the design of the restaurant and dining area, such as in the color palette, bringing touches of color. We played more with the height and the ceiling to give it a loftier feel. To accentuate the ceiling height and maintain continuity with the outside environment, we created ceiling louvers and slats, so you don’t exactly know where the ceiling ends. This area is surrounded by wrap-around windows — you can sit anywhere in the restaurant and have a view out to the Amazon. It’s fantastic.
Function is also important; we took what we learned from Aqua Mekong’s design to improve service and visibility to the service areas, and we created more shaded areas to help create a more protected environment away from the harsh sun. This makes it more comfortable for guests during the day while still enjoying the outdoor environment and the views of and across the river.
4) What is your approach to design?
The key to keeping things contemporary and modern in design is by keeping it simple. To not have one thing stand out; it should be seamless. As soon as one thing stands out, it means at some point they will tire or will need to be replaced. So a timeless, modern design, is quite simple and beautiful in detail, where things transition from one to another naturally. Getting that simple design is a challenge and isn’t always easy, admittedly, but I like that challenge.
5) What is your favorite space on the Aqua Nera?
I love the comfort you have in the cabins, they truly are a haven. When guests leave the vessel, they step into an incredibly colorful environment, in which there is so much happening, so much rich life, flora and fauna. So we want them to come back to a little bit of a haven, and feel comfort and calm. At the same time, we want them to maintain a connection to the surrounding setting, and we do that by incorporating touches of what’s outside. There’s nothing like having a huge picture window, and even more spectacular in the Amazon, while you’re in an incredibly comfortable and rich environment — in terms of design, materiality, and comfort — experiencing this part of the world that not everybody has the chance to.
6) What is something you think guests will enjoy about Aqua Nera’s design?
I love that you can have an incredible experience in the gym, looking out into the Amazon. The lounge is new and expanded. I also like the little hidden details – the surprise elements – in the lobby lounge. We have this spectacular drinks cabinet – you’d have no idea that it’s there until someone opens it to offer a cocktail. It’s these surprises that offer something different. There is also a sense of continuity and familiarity from one vessel to another, such as the use of plate ware, so guests who have traveled with us before will feel delight and comfort in these details.
We have taken into consideration the guest’s experience and the process of arriving from space to space. We appreciate that process and we have created a route through the vessel that is very much controlled, in the sense that it provides an experiential journey of darker and lighter spaces. For example, in the lobby lounge, we could have put windows to make this a very light space but we purposely didn’t. Instead, there is a seven-meter slot window framed by the darker space so it leads the focus towards the view of the landscape. Then you ascend this sculptural staircase and arrive at the main lobby and observation deck, a space filled with natural light. It’s a journey inside the vessel, as much as it is in the environment.
7) Do you think the Aqua Nera will redefine luxury expeditions on the Amazon river?
There are many vessels on the Amazon that are more traditional. I think this vessel will be quite a game-changer. It’s so sleek and strong in its design. The Aqua Nera is poised to be an innovative pioneer once again, it however embraces its heritage, but is contemporary in design and I hope guests can appreciate that.
Aqua Nera will sail alongside the Aria Amazon beginning April 2021, taking guests into the depths of the Peruvian Amazon in ultimate luxury. The vessel offers 3-, 4- and 7-night river expedition itineraries with rates ranging from USD$4,125 to USD$10,325 per person in double occupancy. Find out more about Aqua Nera here.