Petu Kummala Rides the Current of Communication

Carnival Cruise Line’s Petu Kummala relies on a steady stream of meetings to meet strict, fast deadlines and accomplish the cruise line’s goal of building bigger, better luxury vessels

Petu Kummala, Director, Interior Design & Architecture for Carnival Corporation Photo by Petri Juntunen

On a Carnival Cruise ship, you could be treated to thermal suites in a world-class spa, solve a CLUE-inspired murder mystery onboard, see a show with an elaborate set in the Liquid Lounge, and enjoy a drink while listening to live music. The all-inclusive vacation experience of a cruise is meant to take your mind off the mundanity of reality off-ship, providing an escape that’s miles away from the pressures of daily obligations. However, curating a venture like this requires someone to do a great deal of heavy-lifting to bring it to life. At Carnival, that person is Petu Kummala, the company’s director of interior design and architecture.

For Kummala, there are few things more important to the creation of a cruise ship than having a steady stream of meetings. “The pace of building the ships is very fast, and there is constant development during the building process,” he says, “in order to keep things moving and deadlines met, that plays a key role.”

The designer, who started his career in Finland in cruise interior design in the 1990s, brings decades of experience to his current role at Carnival, one of the largest cruise line brands in the world. The company has 26 vessels (21 of which Kummala has worked on) and carried approximately 22 percent of all cruise industry passengers in 2018. Given the company’s high standing, and the complexities that go into cruise ship design, the planning and organization of these projects is a fundamental concern for Kummala.

Kummala and a colleague collaborate on cruise design. Photo by Elizabeth Cazau

There are two different processes that go into the creation of a new cruise ship, says Kummala: a “prototype vessel,” where a new class of ship is being built completely from scratch, and a “sister ship,” in which the hull and basic layout remain largely the same as a previous prototype vessel. The former process is much longer and involves more phases of development. “We’re starting from a blank sheet of paper,” says Kummala. “When creating completely new [ships] like this, we are coming up with designs and solutions that sometimes have never been done before.” From there, Kummala’s team must work with structural engineers and designers to find ways to make those designs possible. “That is always a very interesting and rewarding process,” he notes.

To make the process as smooth as possible, however, continuity of communication is incredibly important to Kummala, which is where the “steady stream of meetings” comes in. Carnival’s ships are crafted with very strict, set deadlines, he says. “The ships are finished on time, so we really have no room for contemplating and changing things as we wish.” To that end, meetings are held frequently on issues like building and design challenges, cost-complexity negotiations, coordination of systems and functions, clarifications with contractors and the shipyard, and more.

For Kummala, some of the biggest, most important meetings are the mock-up meetings, where small versions of the ship’s rooms are built so they can be evaluated for building quality and complexity. “Nowadays, we have very good quality renderings that already give a good impression of the design,” he admits, “but [the mockups] still play a big role in the overall process, especially in finding solutions on how to solve construction challenges.”

Central to Kummala’s concerns when designing and building a ship is to ensure its adherence to the qualities that make it a Carnival cruise liner. While their vessels offer similar details to other ships in their same segment (luxury, exploration, etc.), Kummala’s team coordinates closely with the operations and housekeeping side of the company to optimize the daily life of the ship’s 24/7 operational processes. “There is no point in designing something that looks beautiful when new but can be ruined in a very short time because it can’t be cleaned, can be easily damaged, or is otherwise unsustainable in a cruise ship environment,” he notes. Carnival’s onboard and operational teams provide vital expertise in this area; his design team constantly communicates with them to find a balance between operational preferences and the practicalities of long-term maintenance.

“A job like this is certainly not a one-man job,” Kummala adds. “I’m fortunate to have really great people to work with, from the design side but also from the project side; our entire new-build team is top-notch—no doubt about that. It takes many of us to ensure we get things right.”

One of the ways in which Kummala makes certain that his ideas come to fruition is by the use of augmented reality software from Sim.Co.VR, which allows for streamlined communication during construction, and also can be used to provide immersive experiences for passengers while onboard. “It is a pleasure to work with Petu given his professionalism and innovative vision,” says Massimo Colautti, the CEO and owner of Sim.Co.VR. “Our long-time, winning collaboration that combines Petu’s peculiar design with Sim.Co.VR’s unique services and rendering makes the dream of a cruise ship come true.”

The two newest additions to the Carnival fleet, Carnival Horizon and Carnival Panorama, have been a real test of Kummala’s approach to cruise ship design. Carnival Horizon was launched earlier this year, with her sister ship, Carnival Panorama, set for launch in late 2019. Kummala is particularly proud of these creations: of Carnival Horizon, he says, “She’s a beautiful lady, and we have heard great things from our guests!” Carnival Panorama, meanwhile, will sport several new features, including an indoor trampoline park with a challenge area done in partnership with Sky Zone, which features a blacklight for nighttime glow parties.

However, Kummala’s latest challenge has been the design of the XL Project, a new class of ships that is currently in the prototype vessel phase. The first ship on the roster, Mardi Gras, will be setting sail in 2020, which takes its namesake from the first of Carnival’s liners which made waves for the popularity of cruises, back in 1972. “We started from scratch with a complete design process, creating the overall layouts, designs and concepts for the complete vessel,” he explains of the project. From there, his team is still working with the structural engineers to overcome the challenges the XL’s 180,000-ton design (the biggest in the fleet) will present.

While he can’t disclose many more details about the project apart from its name and size, Kummala is excited to show customers the end result. “I can’t wait!” he says, also revealing that one of the major new innovations will be an on-board roller-coaster, which is a first for the industry.

Through his work on the Carnival Cruise Line’s fleet, Kummala’s primary concern is to approach his designs from the perspective of the visitor. “One philosophy I embrace is to have designs that give guests something to discover even during the last day of their vacation,” he says. “When you create something they love and remember, they keep coming back.”

Naval Interior is an ever-expanding entity, founded in the heart of the Mediterranean with the ability to take on large projects globally in the cruise ship building sector; delivering outstanding interiors with a turnkey service. They have over 60 successfully delivered projects as proof of their high-quality standards and professionalism.