Neptun Ozis: Bringing the St Helena to life

The St Helena has been marvelled as a floating centrepiece of the inaugural season of Extreme E. Today, we learn about the man who helped design it and breathe new life into it.

From the day he was born, Neptun Ozis was seemingly destined for a life which would be deeply connected to the sea. With a name derived from Neptune, Roman God of the Sea, Neptun Ozis explained how his connection to the sea began. “When I was born”, he tells us, “My father named me after the god of the sea, because [my parents] always loved the sea and had boats.”

Neptun was born and brought up in Istanbul, Turkey, the son of Turkish designer, painter and sculptor Sadi Ozis. Neptun carries on the work of his father as an architect, specialising in the interior design of yachts. His creative mind proved instrumental in helping breathe new life into the St Helena, Extreme E’s floating centrepiece and mobile base of operations. We took a dive into Neptun’s world, to see how the world of interior design is helping make ships like the St Helena greener than ever before.

Have or have-yacht

Yachts and other large ships are some of the biggest symbols of status and luxury of our time. These miniature floating palaces can be costly not only to build but to maintain over their years of service. It’s estimated that a typical high-level yacht costs between £32-£36 per 0.45kg of weight to build, while annual maintenance can cost up to 10 per cent of the ship’s purchase price.

One other thing I learned is we don’t need to do something from scratch, we can upcycle instead… When you are talking environmentally-friendly, sustainable projects, you should be very open-minded on your plans.

– Neptun Ozis on the St Helena design

As a result, these vessels are often the reserve of the highly wealthy, costing tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds to build and maintain over time. Neptun appreciates yachts from a design perspective, having been a student of architecture. “I was studying architecture, and while I was studying, I was working on five-star hotels”, Neptun explains.

Like hotels, many yachts are furnished with timber, marble and all sorts of metals which can be polished up in a way that gives them that luxury feel. While ships used to use a large quantity of timber in the olden days as part of the construction process, Neptun explains that more modern builds rely on a lower volume of timber. Better still, many yacht construction jobs can source recycled wood for use in decking and furnishing.

A selection of sustainable and upcycled designed pieces by Neptun Ozis

But how can these substantial vessels remain so large yet use fewer trees to be built? Much of what you see on the interior of a yacht is all about the surface level. In effect, any yachts use just a thin layer, a veneer of timber and other materials, if you will, to give a traditional luxury appearance. Scratch beneath this veneer and you bump into more solid, denser metal superstructures and other materials. On the surface, however, the ship is able to maintain a more pleasant wood-panelled look.

Neptun explains some of the typical traditional sources of timber which traditionally went into the construction of decking for yachts, saying, “These are woods like teak or iroko, which are actually endangered because of yachts, because they have been growing for 40-50 years, and all of a sudden, you cut them down. Even if you plant a new one now, they need 30-40 years to have the same-sized tree.”

As a result of logging and an insatiable appetite for teak and iroko for use as timber, these forms of trees have been respectively listed as endangered in the case of the former and vulnerable for the latter, according to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

As an alternative to timber, Neptun reveals the yacht design process is switching to more durable materials which can improve sustainability. “Now, we have started using resin decking”, Neptun claims, “which looks like teak and feels like it, and there’s no need for maintenance.”

If a designer had opted for teak or iroko decking, a yacht or ship might require as many as 5-20 coats of polish a year, but by using resin instead, the decking would retain a deck-like appearance but require virtually zero maintenance in its lifetime. Another benefit of switching timber decking for resin is that the timber often requires sanding on a fairly regular basis to maintain its appearance. While it makes the wooden decking look fairly spotless in the short to medium term, sanding scrapes it away slowly but surely over the years, making the need for fresh timber an inevitability in just a few short years. Ships such as the St Helena make use of resin to great effect, keeping a lid on financial costs, but also environmental ones too. While resin can be tricky to produce without a bit of carbon being emitted, this is certainly a greener alternative to constantly tearing down vulnerable or endangered trees for their timber on a regular basis.

St Helena leads the way

Some of the most prominent design features of the St Helena include its use of low-energy LED lighting, bathroom fittings which ensure low water consumption, as well as furniture made from upcycled plastic bottles collected in the Mediterranean.

They don’t come often, or every single day

– Neptun Ozis on the opportunity of designing the interior of the St Helena

“LED lights are more efficient, and require less power consumption”, Neptun says. LEDs, or light-emitting diodes are a far greener way of lighting even the darkest of ships, as they can be much smaller than conventional light-bulbs, enjoy a greater lamp life and require hardly any maintenance. The green credentials of LEDs are hard to ignore: it has been estimated that a standard LED bulb uses 90 per cent less energy than a regular incandescent bulb.

Less of the energy is wasted in its use, as standard lightbulbs can only produce a few per cent worth of energy in the form of light; the remaining 90 per cent or so of other energy used is wasted in the form of heat given off by the bulb itself. LED bulbs still generate a bit of heat themselves, but at a fraction of the amount from regular bulbs. It’s a real lightbulb moment, and allows the St Helena’s lighting system to stay cool, just in time for the Extreme E team to reach the frosty climate that awaits them in Greenland for the Arctic X Prix.

As Neptun tells us, jobs such as designing the interior for the St Helena are more the exception than the rule. It’s not every day that an electric racing event calls upon an interior designer to take a 30-year-old ship and redesign it for a more sustainable age. Effectively, works such as these are almost like so-called ships passing in the night. “They don’t come often, or every single day”, Neptun admits. He often finds himself working on more like five or six smaller projects otherwise, but is already opening himself up to tackle another large project again sometime soon.

One of the learnings Neptun took away from the St Helena design was the way that they could make use of materials such as resin, which admittedly aren’t totally sustainable to create, but which are considerably more sustainable to use than timber or other traditional building materials. “I’ve learnt a lot of things, and most of them are material-based.”

“One other thing I learned is we don’t need to do something from scratch, we can upcycle instead. You can upcycle a lot of things for your future projects…When you are talking environmentally-friendly, sustainable projects, you should be very open-minded on your plans.”

Some of the interiors designed by Neptun Ozis for Extreme E’s floating paddock the St. Helena

Looking to the future, Neptun is concerned about the growing world population and its impact on the planet. It took almost all of human history up until the 19th century for the world population to hit one billion people for the first time. By 1960, the world population had just grown to 2.5 billion people. By 2024, it is expected to top eight billion. Simply put, the last 60 years or so have seen more humans on the planet than at any point in recorded history.

“I am pretty positive, but I don’t believe everything is going to be alright”, Neptun tells us. By the year 2100, the UN expects the population to rise to approximately 11 billion before beginning to plateau. In the meantime, this phenomenal population growth will mean tens of millions of babies being born into a world that could become more fragile and with an environment more volatile than any we have ever known as a species.

But perhaps Neptun’s general optimism will win through in the end. As noted, the world population is far more likely to plateau rather than continue growing at its current rate for an indefinite period of time. As nations grow wealthier, birth rates drop and families begin to go for closer to two children, guaranteeing the increased likelihood for a more stable population in the long-term. As someone who has a close connection to the sea, Neptun is right to be concerned about a rapidly-increasing population.

However, as time unfolds, it seems far more likely from the current projections that future generations are more likely to keep our population on a more even keel and avoid rocking the boat unnecessarily. Neptun is one of the more behind-the-scenes contributors to the work Extreme E has been doing to make a difference in recent months and years. The St Helena is an invaluable tool to not only convey the Extreme E team from destination to destination, but it also serves as a symbol of how even the most gas-guzzling of old ships can be given a new lease of life. Neptun’s work is presented in a way which ensures that the St Helena will be an example for other ships to emulate, in making travel across the big blue oceans much greener.

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