By Tom Brown
MIAMI (Reuters) - Given the fading fortunes of the European Union, a good deal of symbolism can probably be read into the fact that it helped inspire the design of the Italian ocean liner that hit a rock and capsized off the Tuscan island of Giglio two weeks ago.
And it was indeed the EU, the economic and political confederation of member states with a combined population of more than 500 million people, that served as the central motif for fashioning the Costa Concordia's interior, said veteran Miami architect Joe Farcus.
"Usually I design ships around what I call the central idea, the point of interest of something that would be the basis of a story," Farcus said.
"On this ship, the idea was for each public room to take a style that was evocative of every country in Europe, in the European Union," he said. "I think it worked out that every country in the European Union sort of equaled the number of public rooms on the ship."
Poring over photos of the vessel's over-the-top interior, images taken before its accident and filled to overflowing with bold primary and neon colors, Farcus acknowledged that it was hard to say now exactly which of the rooms represented any particular EU member country.
But he said the towering central atrium took its design cues from the Art Nouveau styles of Belgium, in recognition of its role as the seat of the European Parliament. The piano bar, one of 13 watering holes aboard the ship, was done in Hungarian style because he is of Hungarian descent, Farcus said.
Costa Cruises Chairman and Chief Executive Pier Luigi Foschi also had the EU very much in mind when he named the ship, which was officially christened in July 2006, the Concordia, Farcus said.
As in Concord, the name signifies agreement or harmony and friendly, peaceful relations.
"That is how Mr. Foschi came up with the name Concordia, meaning a peaceful gathering of many cultures," Farcus said.
"It was very, very interesting," Farcus said on Wednesday at his well-appointed, palm-fringed Miami Beach home.
"To think of her where she is now is so incredibly sad," the 67-year-old architect said of the Concordia.
The ship is one of dozens Farcus has designed in a career spanning more than 30 years for Carnival Corp, the parent of Italy's Costa.
"I don't know anything beyond what I've read in the various media reports but it seems like it was a horrible human error situation, which accidents often are," said Farcus, when asked about what really happened on the Concordia on January 13. At least 16 people were killed and more are missing.
"Clearly the damage to the ship was catastrophic," he said, referring to the "gigantic gash" that tore into the hull of the Concordia and quickly caused it to capsize.
"The list apparently happened practically immediately," he said. "But there still seemed to be just about an hour where basically whatever should have been done, or could have been done, wasn't done for whatever reason. Time will tell that story, I guess."
Though Farcus once earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the architect behind the first passenger ship ever to exceed 100,000 tons, he said the size of gargantuan cruise liners, some of which now boast as much as 225,000 tons, was something that would now be subject to close scrutiny in any post-Concordia safety reviews.
"This raises issues and rightly so, it should be looked at," he said.
"If it floats it can sink."
(Reporting By Tom Brown; Editing by Bill Trott)