Like many others, the Hong Kong-based designer Michael Young ‘wanted to put out some positive energy during a period where there is very little optimism.’ One of the early feel-good stories to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic was a report of clear waters in Venice, suddenly silt-free in the absence of churning vaporettos and water taxis, allowing fish and fowl to return and flourish. Young’s solution is an attempt to capture a bit of this inadvertent calm and preserve it for the future. The OseaD1 is an electric concept boat, a hypothetical craft to ferry passengers between Hong Kong Island and Herzog and de Meuron’s new M+ Museum, one of the core attractions in the West Kowloon Cultural District.

‘I did the boat to create waves and show that we can still create when the world is so unstable,’ the designer says, pointing out that ‘a lot of boat design is stuck in the 80s.’ The OseaD1 is friendly, curvaceous and quite unlike the thrusting forms of modern maritime design. Recycled polythene and steel are the principal materials. ‘We want to support environmentally-friendly transport where it’s needed most,’ Young says, ‘and we’re using this quiet time to get ahead.’ 

While Hong Kong’s own boat industry is dwindling to nothing, manufacturing is obviously a Chinese strength. The oval form of the tourist ferry could easily be up or downscaled, from anything to a personal craft or a more capacious taxi boat. ‘I’d like to design luxury boats, of course, but we decided to offer commercial solutions for the time being,’ he says. The proposed propulsion system would give the little OseaD1 the flexibility and manoeuvrability of a modern tugboat, with hydraulic stabilisers for a smooth ride. 

Electric boats are barely represented in Hong Kong’s waters at the moment, but the tide is turning and new legislation will encourage a far greater take up of electrified watercraft. Young and his studio envisage a role for this kind of compact, near-silent boat in the Hong Kong of the future, with a walk-on, walk-off design and docking points that double as charging stations. As well as cleaning up the Bay, electric propulsion is also low maintenance. However, the studio notes that just 2 per cent of boat are currently electric or hybrid, and with shipping emitting about 2.2 per cent of all human-made CO2 every year. By focusing on a particular niche at this very peculiar time, Young is hoping that bold new approaches will be spurred on by the shutdown. §