History of KNUD E. HANSEN A/S

History of KNUD E. HANSEN A/S

The story of KNUD E. HANSEN A/S began in 1900 when Knud Emil Thorvald Henning Hansen was born in Espergærde, near Helsingør. As the son of a ship’s captain, he chose to study naval architecture at the Polyteknisk Læreanstalt in Copenhagen (today Denmark’s Tekniske Universitet or DTU), before going on to gain experience at shipyards in Denmark, the UK and the Netherlands. It was in this period that Hansen began working on designing ferries and passenger ships – the sector with which the Hansen name would subsequently become synonymous in the years ahead.

Hansen also developed a design philosophy that was deeply rooted in Nordic history. Studying the history and traditions of Scandinavian seafarers down the centuries convinced him that beauty and utility were connected; that a well-designed ship should also be an aesthetically attractive ship. This belief, combined with a dedication to first class engineering, underpinned his approach to naval architecture for the rest of his career.

1937-1960 The early years

On 1 November 1937 Hansen founded his own company. At that time independent designers were unusual, but opinions were shifting with owners beginning to order ships that matched their needs rather than the templates provided by the yards. Much of the work undertaken in the early years by Hansen and his small team was on fishing and whaling boats, and the period after the Second World War saw an emphasis on rebuilding the Danish Merchant fleet. However, in the early 1950s demand for ferries and small passenger ships – a sector in which Hansen was already well known from his work before the war – really began to grow. 

During the 1950s, the company worked on a number of passenger and car ferries for routes across the Baltic. The demand for car ferries in particular was being driven by the rapid expansion of car ownership, and vessels by KNUD E. HANSEN A/S became well known for their elegant looks and imaginative and efficient internal arrangements.

1960-1980 Expansion and the rise of the cruise ship

Sadly, Knud E. Hansen died in 1960 and left the business to ten of his employees. The new managing director was Svend Aage Bertelsen, an experienced naval architect and an excellent salesman. He encouraged ship owners to try new designs that took advantage of the recognised expertise of Knud E. Hansen in innovation and styling, and by the mid-1960s the company had grown to 60 employees covering every aspect of naval architecture and marine engineering.   

The second half of the 1960s was an exciting time to be a leader in naval architecture. Big changes in ship design were taking place as Europe and the USA saw economic growth and increased prosperity. The next generation of car ferries were much larger than their predecessors, with greater public spaces and better facilities. This time also saw the birth of mass-market cruises to the Caribbean out of Miami, spearheaded by a number of Norwegian entrepreneurs.

KNUD E. HANSEN A/S, with its experience of designing efficient passenger ships with elegant lines, was a natural choice for owners looking to take advantage of this market and early projects included the design of three 18,500t vessels for the Royal Caribbean Line, each capable of carrying 870 passengers. More and larger vessels followed, plus smaller, more exclusive cruise ships.

The mid-1970s saw orders for new cruise ships drop as oil prices soared and economic growth slowed sharply. However, this opened up a new market for the company alongside its core ferry expertise as ship conversions became to be seen as a more economical alternative. Greek owners were at the forefront of this movement, and KNUD E. HANSEN A/S won a series of contracts. The old style combination cargo passenger liners were particularly suitable for this kind of work. The most notable project undertaken by KNUD E. HANSEN A/S at this time was the conversion of the 1,035ft France from a transatlantic liner – then the world’s longest - to a cruise ship of 70,000 tonnes. Completed in 1980, this immense undertaking ended up costing $100m and was the company’s largest project up to that point.

1980-1995 The design revolution

The business of naval architecture continued to evolve during the late 70s and 80s with many shipyards expanding their in-house design departments. The increasing use of design partnerships between shipyards and independent naval architects like KNUD E. HANSEN A/S left less room for individual expression, and the design of vessels of all types was also changing.  With financial efficiency now the overriding priority ships grew ever larger and outward appearances were sacrificed in favour of maximising capacity. 

The result was hybrid designs and the loss of a distinct aesthetic. Commercial vessels began to be likened by many to shoe boxes, and the emerging jumbo ferries looked very different to their predecessors. Nonetheless, the new era brought with it a range of exciting engineering challenges and KNUD E. HANSEN A/S was at the forefront of the development of such innovations as full length superstructures, duck tail sponsons, the twin skeg stern design and torpedo shaped bulbous bows. 

Other interesting projects around this time included designs for what were then called ‘yacht cruise ships’, and which would now be referred to as superyachts. These included the design of a 2,200t yacht for the Iraqi president in the late 1970s and another for the Saudi Arabian royal family. The company was also performing extensive research into the feasibility of cruise ships in excess of 100,000t. 

The mid-1980s saw a resurgence in new-build cruise ships. Notable projects included the design of the 40,000t Crown Odyssey. This incorporated all the latest thinking in cruise ship design including a narrower superstructure containing a high proportion of outside suites and a more generous hull and superstructure characterised by sleek forms and dynamic curves.

Big changes took place around this time at KNUD E. HANSEN A/S as well. The long-serving managing director Svend Aage Bertelsen died in 1985 and lead designer Tage Wandborg left in 1993 after nearly 40 years at the company to establish his own independent design business. Under the leadership of Franklin Petersen three teams of naval architects were created to develop projects on a rolling basis, and projects thereafter included two large ro-pax ferries for the North Sea and a number of other ferries for Belgian, Swedish and Canadian operators. 

1995 to the present day – new owners and new challenges

Since 1995, KNUD E. HANSEN A/S has continued to become involved in an increasingly wide range of designs including work on container ships, tankers, offshore support vessels and various types of service craft. Other projects have included the conceptual development of a wind-powered cargo ship using rotating, computer-controlled aerofoil sails and the design of striking, high-speed ro-pax ferries for Superfast, then a new entrant into the Greek ferry market.  

The result is that today, KNUD E. HANSEN A/S undertakes a wider variety of work than ever before, covering every aspect of naval architecture and marine engineering.  Looking forward to the future, KNUD E. HANSEN A/S has the experience, expertise and technology to undertake projects on any kind of vessel, anywhere in the world.

Read more in the book written by Dr. Bruce Peter "75 Years of Ship Design".