Designing in Uncharted Waters

March 30, 2017

Intrepid explorers who prefer to travel in style now have a new and exotic destination to add to their bucket lists.

Myanmar (Burma), a region closed off to the world until as recently as this decade, is undergoing a major tourism renaissance. Ancient pagodas, breathtaking vistas and untouched wildlife – once only accessible through photographs and internet searches – are now waiting to be explored. Thanks to Australian Pacific Touring, Myanmar’s natural beauty can be unlocked from the comfort of two new luxury river cruise ships: the 4-star RV Princess Panhwar and the 5-star RV Samatha; with interiors designed exclusively by CHIL Interior Design, the global hospitality studio of B+H.

The vessels, which include guest suites, a lounge, sun deck, lobbies and public spaces, rest rooms, opulent corridors and a centerpiece restaurant, each take design cues from their local context. However, this proved to be no easy feat for the design team. Almost as mystifying as the country itself was developing an initial design concept inspired by a geography CHIL, and much of the world, knew very little about.

From Mandalay to Yangon, the cruise ships sail down the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River and offer guests a rare and intimate glimpse into Myanmar’s rich cultural diversity. As such, the ships’ designs had to be a floating representation of the entire region. Achieving a design solution that suitably represented a diverse culture in a politically complicated region required extensive research. The CHIL team travelled to Myanmar and nearby neighbours Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to meet with clients, observe, learn and document their findings. “I think perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this project was meeting such a diverse group of clients who each wanted representation in the final designs, and managing those expectations,” said Adèle Rankin, CHIL Interior Design Principal and Design Lead on the project.

“In the end we were able to produce two distinct design solutions that respect and pay homage to the beautiful landscape while recognizing local and regional cultural differences.”

What is the buoyancy of a marble countertop? How about an upholstered wingback chair?

Navigating local and regional sensitivities within the context of design and meeting the expectations of a diverse client base weren’t the only challenges encountered during this project. The RV Princess Panhwar and the RV Samatha marked CHIL’s first foray in the hospitality transport sector, and designing the interiors for cruise ships came with some learning curves. What is the buoyancy of a marble countertop? How about an upholstered wingback chair? These are just some of the questions the CHIL team had to ask themselves as they painstakingly evaluated every material, appliance and piece of furniture with extreme precision to ensure the overall weights of the ships were kept light to clear low river levels. A mix of insight and creative problem solving, such as using lightweight flooring solutions instead of solid wood, were applied to create design solutions that are as efficient as they are visually arresting.

General Project Information

Location: Myanmar (Burma)
Size: 30 Cabin Vessel (RV Samatha); 36 Cabin Vessel (RV Princess Panhwar)
Status: Completed in 2015
Client: Australian Pacific Touring
Services: Interior Design

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The designs for the RV Princess Panhwar and the RV Samatha strike a fine balance between traditional ornamentalism and modern luxury while celebrating their rich and diverse environments. Guests are taken on a culturally immersive voyage in uncharted waters that is both mysterious and alluring.

Where do we sign up?