The realisation of the land extension project is an architectural and technical challenge. It responds to the Principality’s ambitious energy transition objectives regarding its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (becoming carbon neutral by 2050) and to the need for growth in a dynamic and modern country. Part of the challenge is to design and apply construction methods which minimise the impact on the natural environment in agreement with Monaco’s global sustainable development project. The developed areas must make it possible to build a district at the forefront of a new responsible urban energy management, and of new construction methods whose constant objective is to reduce the impact on the environment.
Architects are at the heart of this process. Valode and Pistre Architects and Renzo Piano Building Workshop are the two internationally renowned firms that coordinate the work of design teams to bring together design, aesthetics, energy efficiency and sustainable development. Associated with landscape architect Michel Desvigne, they introduce a natural space within this artificial extension.
Denis Valode, Joost Moolhuijzen and Michel Desvigne explain in three interviews what constitutes a real challenge for them and forces each of them to revisit their creative methods.
Founded in 1980, Valode and Pistre Architects now has of offices in Paris, Moscow, Beijing and Shanghai. Denis Valode and Jean Pistre have been working together for more than 40 years since they met at the school of fine arts. They are at the head of the top French architectural firm and are involved in numerous major projects. The offshore extension of Monaco is high on this list because it combines both many difficulties and many opportunities. Denis Valode explains.
Thierry Apparu : What kind of skills does designing a project of this nature require?
Denis Valode : Increasing the size of a territory is a project that rarely occurs in a professional lifetime. The offshore extension of Monaco represents six hectares, or about 2% of the total surface area of the country. This is not insignificant. The Principality of Monaco is already an exceptional site.
It is therefore necessary to be imaginative in order to create a neighbourhood that fits into this dimension while respecting the place to which we are adding a new space.
It takes a lot of thought and a lot of care. All this is enhanced by the desire of the Sovereign, the Prince’s Government and SAM L’Anse du Portier to limit the impact on the environment as much as possible.
This principle determines our thinking. We have to be careful. We know that there have been failed extensions in the world where the marine and terrestrial contexts have not been sufficiently taken into account.
How did you develop your ideas?
We started from two fundamental points: the first is the form we have given to this extension. It is a curved shape. Our first concern, as I said earlier, is the environment. The curve follows the Ligurian marine current that flows through this part of the Mediterranean. It is necessary for the oxygenation of the seabed and should therefore not be hindered, hence the choice of this shape which allows the extension to enter the sea in a gentle way without being an obstacle.
The creation of a hill and the staggering of the various sectors of the district give a natural aspect to the development.
The second point is that of relief. Instead of building a horizontal extension, we chose to put a hill in the centre, creating volume. It will be a natural environment that will not be a garden but a pine forest that will regenerate itself. This hill enriches the silhouette of this new district. The buildings lean against it facing the sea. These two points give the project its natural and integrated character.
Building at sea also means having to contend with the sea. How do you reconcile the architectural aspects with the techniques used to resist this force?
The seafront meets the initial requirement of containing the power of the sea. As we know, swells and storms sculpt the shore and can be extremely destructive. To cope with this power, there is a device inside each caisson: a technical structure called the Jarlan chamber. These are openings that allow the energy from the sea to be dissipated.
On these caissons we have designed a seaside promenade that stretches along the extension, in the same spirit as coastal paths found across Azurean coastlines, therefore creating an architectural feature out of a technical constraint.
Does the part of the project you are responsible for retain a Mediterranean spirit?
This project consists of a set of buildings that rise from east to west. On the Larvotto side, to the east, there are about ten villas. They are a clear reference to the start of the urbanisation of the Riviera with its beautiful seaside villas built by the English, around which the urbanisation of the French Riviera gradually developed.
We are telling this story again, creating a set of villas next to which the buildings gradually rise. The villas are large and extremely contemporary in their design. They are all different but they are part of the same architectural family. Each one has an original feature, some are a little curved, others orthogonal. They will all be built with the same materials and will share many details in common that will complement each other.
The future villas will all have a different design.
Looking at the extension from the sea and moving west, after the villas we find buildings that progressively rise to 10 levels.
Then there is the large building and the small marina. These two elements are designed by Renzo Piano.
The prime quality of any project is its coherence. It is achieved here by the horizontal stratification of the whole extension with its steady elevation that gives the feeling of a natural relief reinforced by the hill. Another element that helps create this coherence is the material used. We work with two kinds of stones. One is very light-coloured, very white; the other is a little darker.
Using them together will form a composition. We will also use bronze elements which will contrast with the very light-coloured stone. This will give it a high-quality finish.
How do you see this project in relation to all your achievements?
We have the opportunity to work all over the world on some very beautiful projects, but the offshore extension of Monaco is the type of project that only happens once in a career. The challenges are many; environmental, architectural, technical.
There are many constraints and responsibilities with this project, which we mentioned at the beginning of the interview. In addition, there is the difficulty and enormous responsibility of installing such a significant architectural structure in the sea. All this is happening in what is, for me, one of the most beautiful places in the world, the French Riviera and the Mediterranean. And we are in Monaco, one of the most famous destinations. It is a very exceptional adventure.