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Le Commandant Charcot: a unique blend

Planches croquis_global design © PONANT_STIRLING DESIGN INTERNATIONAL (1)

A ship designed for the Poles

Le Commandant Charcot is the newest addition to the PONANT fleet and the first luxury ship in the world capable of taking passengers to the heart of the polar regions. It has taken six years to build this marvel of innovation. From the first designs to the last interior fittings, the ship’s design reflects the architects and designers’ constant focus on magnifying the polar environment. Jean-Michel Wilmotte, Jean-Philippe Nuel and Thibault Tincelin share some of the secrets behind building a powerful yet elegant ship.

A 360° immersion in the cryosphere

From the panoramic restaurants and full-width lounges to the promenade deck and lofty observation areas, each of Le Commandant Charcot’s spaces brilliantly illustrates the ambition that has driven PONANT since its creation: bridging distances to take its passengers to the heart of spectacular natural environments.

“Throughout this project, we have sought to maintain the connection between this new addition and the rest of the fleet. We considered it particularly important to preserve the large arch filled with windows — an aspect of the superstructure that is one of the company’s unique architectural features — while allowing passengers on the upper deck to become completely immersed in the outdoor environment. We played on the relaxing aspect of horizontality,” explains architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte.

As such, the passenger decks give pride of place to spaces with windows, providing observation posts for taking in every aspect of the surrounding landscapes. The objective is to “direct the eye outside, and to bring the outside in,” explains the designer. Depending on the destination, passengers can admire the mysterious black cliffs of Charcot Island in Antarctica from the main lounge, the majestic Larsen Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea from the observation area, and the beauties of the Scoresby Sund Fjord on the east coast of Greenland during a massage in the spa. The spacious cabins are equally as impressive, with each offering a private balcony or terrace for contemplating the splendours of the polar regions. For an utterly unique experience, passengers can stand on the bow and take in the exhilarating sensation of being completely cut off from the rest of the world.


“We wanted to respect the DNA of the PONANT brand: reflecting a modern sophistication that aims to enhance the extraordinary landscapes in which the ship travels,” explains Jean-Michel Wilmotte. This vision is embodied by a simple, tasteful decor where nothing is missing, but where nothing steals the show from the sumptuous polar decor either. “It’s all in the details and in the relaxing atmosphere created to liberate the spirits of our passengers so that they can bask in the outdoor show,” he says.

Nathalie Michel en Georgie du Sud / ©Nathalie Michel

Designing the ship to sail in extreme weather conditions has affected every detail, including the insulation of the hull and superstructures, the de-icing of the decks and systems, and the characteristics of the windowpanes used. 

The outdoor spaces have been designed so that passengers can admire the environment in comfort. From the Blue Lagoon pools to the heated benches on the promenade deck and the giant firepit, each space has heating devices that use energy recovery, allowing passengers to enjoy the pure air of the Poles.

Polar inspirations: water, ice and fire

We started with a powerful idea: expressing the specific environment in which the boat will sail in a timeless way, while staying true to the spirit of the place itself, i.e. the Poles”, says architect Jean-Philippe Nuel. “This wilderness interacts with the refined interior’s noble and warm textures and materials.”

Layouts favour light tones and the interplay of textures, with the aim of illustrating both the softness and power of this polar environment. Two types of wood were selected: walnut for its warm tones, and grey or white oak to evoke the polar light. In terms of fabrics, elegant materials were chosen to create a comforting atmosphere in response to the harsh polar conditions. 

Nathalie Michel en Georgie du Sud / ©Nathalie Michel

Aware of the crucial importance of preserving these powerful yet fragile virgin spaces, PONANT imposed strict environmental standards throughout the project. “Respect for the environment was an ever-present issue when designing the ship,” says Thibaut Tincelin. The vast majority of the materials were selected for their low environmental impact from suppliers who have been awarded sustainable development labels. The aim was to let as much natural light in as possible to minimise the use of artificial lighting.

At the Spa and the Blue Lagoon, “passengers will be between water and fire”, explains Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who says he is particularly pleased with the work done in these spaces. Like the indoor pool and observation area, which are “primarily places for contemplation.

We were inspired by the idea of a mountain chalet,” explains Jean-Philippe Nuel. “At the heart of this extreme environment, we wanted to create the impression of a protective and cosy cocoon.” This is perfectly reflected in each of the lounges and in the Duplex and Armateur (Shipowner) suites, where huge fireplaces interact with the ice outside, in the deliberately rounded lines of the interior spaces and decorative items, and in the pairs of armchairs with integrated tables and lights. It can also be found in the rhythm of the high-traffic areas, which strike a subtle balance between space and intimacy, right up to the suites’ curved ceilings, which evoke peace and tranquillity. These details make Le Commandant Charcot a comfortable, elegant model that is also technologically advanced.

Nathalie Michel en Georgie du Sud / ©Nathalie Michel

A delicate balance between safety and refinement

Le Commandant Charcot is a particularly large vessel, measuring 150 metres long by 28 metres wide [Editor’s Note: compared to L’Austral, another vessel in the PONANT fleet used in the Poles, which is 142 metres long by 18 metres wide]. “It isn’t the materials that make it luxurious; it’s the amount of space,” declares Jean-Michel Wilmotte.

It has the space required to accommodate all the features vital for ensuring the safety of the ship, which will sail in particularly isolated areas: two tanks to store the 4,500 m3 of Liquefied Natural Gas necessary for its propulsion; special polar lifeboats with more living space; a rear bridge with a second cockpit; all the consumables, supplies and medical resources needed to be autonomous for two months; and a large helicopter pad for international rescue operations involving all the types of helicopters able to fly in these remote areas.

Nathalie Michel en Georgie du Sud / ©Nathalie Michel

Le Commandant Charcot is a pioneering project that pushed the architects, who started from scratch, to go above and beyond at each stage of its development because the initial design was inspired by an ice-breaker rather than a cruise ship. “The most interesting innovation of this project is the successful blend of an ice-breaker hull, the essential safety elements of a polar vessel and the aesthetics of a cruise ship. This unique approach offers an unparalleled level of safety and comfort for cruising at high latitudes,” explains Thibault Tincelin, President of Stirling Design International, a naval architecture firm based in Nantes, France. “For example, the superstructures were placed behind the hull for passenger comfort, contrary to what is custom in the industry,” he says.

Photo credits: ©PONANT/Wilmotte & Associés Architectes / ©PONANT/Studio Jean-Philippe Nuel – Axe 3D Studio / ©PONANT/STIRLING DESIGN INTERNATIONAL


Navire Le Commandant Charcot : vue aérienne, en train de naviguer entre les plaques de banquise

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