Exterior Ship Esthetics

Many designs for the exterior of the spaceship USS Enterprise have been created, and many more are yet to be imagined. The final exterior look of the Gen1 Enterprise will be driven largely by the functional needs of its parts.This abides by a central principle employed in modern architectural design of buildings on earth: form follows function.

But the impact of function on the look of the Enterprise is not the only factor to be considered. Yes, the ship’s look will reflect the magnificent work of engineering within it hulls – but the ship’s look will also take into account that to some degree the exterior of the ship is a work of art. It’s a work of art in the same sense that a spectacular building on earth is more than a construction project. Well done architecture is something meant to inspire us. Thus, the Gen1 Enterprise will be more than a spaceship construction project.

The look of the Enterprise matters because the ship is intended to inspire us in our quest to explore outer space. Thus, esthetics must be considered in the design of it. Artists will be included early on in the development process to contribute ideas toward the final look of the ship. The artists will be drawn from diverse artistic fields such as graphics design, industrial design, architectural design, and sculpture design.

As an additional reminder of why to work an artistic angle into the design of the Enterprise, recall that the underlying idea for the exterior of the Gen1 USS Enterprise was ushered into our consciousness by the otherworldly art of our dreams, the art known as science fiction.

Some of the items impacting the look of the ship that must be considered when working out the ship’s exterior design are:

  • The ratio of the diameter of the saucer hull to the thickness at its perimeter.
  • The shape and amount of flare near the center of the saucer hull on the top and bottom.
  • The texture and color of the outside surface over the entire ship.
  • The size, color, and placement of exterior lights scattered about the surface of the ship’s hulls.
  • The general shape and contours of the main engine hull and the two aux engine hulls.
  • The lengths and shapes of the connecting bars attached to the four ship hulls.
  • The shape of the forward-facing covers on the main engine hull and the two aux engine hulls.
  • The color and intensity of the lighting, if any, for the forward-facing covers on the main engine hull and the two aux engine hulls.
  • The length of the main engine hull and two aux engine hulls relative to each other and to the saucer hull diameter.
  • Any painted details added to the outer surfaces on any of the hulls.
  • The sharpness or roundedness of edges for all components of the ship.

While in general the ship will not contain ornamental features unrelated to the ship’s functions and technologies, there will be some exceptions. In building designs back on earth, modernism was rooted in the minimal and true use of materials as well as absence of ornament, while postmodernism rejects the strict rules set down by the early modernists and stylistic references are sought out. So in this sense, the Gen1 Enterprise will be a postmodern spaceship.

Most if not all of the external lighting scattered over the exterior hulls of the ship is not really needed. And any noticeable front covers on the main engine hull and/or the aux engine hulls will likely serve no functional purpose either. And if these covers are lit up, this may be for no reason other than it looks right. Many of the contours on various regions of the hulls will not be entirely driven by the functional needs of the ship’s inner components. But it’s okay to do these things, and more so since these features have a long tradition of being present on the ships in the Star Trek science fiction. So in a symbolic sense, there is a need for these features. As mentioned earlier, seeking out stylistic references to structures that have come before is a characteristic of postmodern design.

Below are some examples of postmodern architecture that include ornamental features, and references to older styles, that have been blended nicely with the purely functional needs of the buildings.

Sony Tower and Frost Bank Building

Sydney Opera House

A final and perhaps obvious reason to include an artistic angle in the Enterprise’s exterior design is found when considering the development of automobiles back on earth. Yes, a car’s design reflects the functional needs of its parts. But also car developers carefully develop the look of the car because they know that this has a big impact on whether people find the car appealing or not. The final contours of the car are not just about what is needed for good engineering, they are also about what looks sleek, sexy, and eye-catching. The wheel covers, the contours of the body, the front grille, the slants of the windows, and hood ornaments are often detached from the purely functional needs of the car. We just like some amount of effort put into esthetic considerations when teams of people create new cars. The same will surely be true for the Gen1 USS Enterprise – and any Enterprise thereafter.


On a last note, to gather more ideas and to involve the broader public, NASA might sponsor a national contest to help come up with ideas for the Gen1 Enterprise’s look.

A committee of professional artists and space engineers can judge which contestant’s ship is the most inspirational while also being compatible with the functional needs of the ship.