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.
Joost Moolhuijzen © LDQ
Joost Moolhuijzen is the director of Renzo Piano Building Workshop, and a close associate of the famous Italian architect. In this capacity, he is working with him on the construction of the Grand Immeuble and the Port d’Animation, which will occupy the west side of the offshore extension of Monaco. In this interview, he details the many issues that make this project unique.
Thierry Apparu: What do you take into consideration when creating a district from scratch?
Joost Moolhuijzen : When starting a construction, there is usually already a history, immediate surroundings, and aspects that can be compelling or inspiring. In the case of the offshore extension of Monaco, it is about creating a whole district. In a way we are starting from scratch. We can rely on a broader context linked to the Principality and the French Riviera. These are two rich heritages. It is a Mediterranean project and as such we have the right background with Renzo Piano being from Genoa, a Mediterranean port city.
Renzo Piano © LDQ
Last but not least, the environmental orientation given by the Sovereign, the specifications set by the Prince’s Government and SAM L’Anse du Portier were solid reference points as to the direction to be taken.
You work all over the world on exceptional projects. However, many superlatives are used to describe this extension and suggest that this project is really unique. Why?
It is quite normal to consider it that way. This project is a real tour de force regarding engineering, technology and in terms of issues to be solved on a daily basis. Building under and on the sea is a very complex task. Everything is a challenge, especially at a depth of 30 metres with the installation of the backfill. The work is considerable and unique in many ways and, in addition to this, comes with unprecedented environmental specifications.
On the left, the building designed by RPBW on the Anse du Portier site. Photo © Renzo Piano Building Workshop
It is the same for the buildings. Our thinking and choices must be made in a different way in order to achieve our objectives. That is the aim of this project, we must think differently. The building we are in charge of is sometimes compared to a docked cruise ship but in fact it is much smaller than the cruise ships that arrive in Monaco. We are talking about 300-metre long ships whereas our building is only 125 meters long. It is not the gigantic size of the project that makes it exceptional, it is the need to consider human beings and nature together.
Bringing a residential space to life may seem, at first glance, like a paradox. How do you solve this?
Next to the large building, there is the small port. This is an extremely important element. It’s the way to invigorate the district. All over the world, especially in the Mediterranean, a port is the place to go for a walk or to enjoy a drink. It makes the place attractive. It is also the centre of activity in a residential area and therefore it attracts a large number of people. Other factors are essential to bring the whole area to life. This notably includes work on the building itself. It is ‘floating’ four metres above the ground, not resting directly on it. As a result at ground level there is an open space that allows you to gaze upon the horizon with a view out to the open sea. There are no barriers and you can walk around freely. In addition, we are aware that the building will never be 100% permanently occupied. But it must always appear lived-in. Even in the middle of the day when the apartments are empty or when you want to protect yourself from too much light, the building must remain attractive. We are therefore seeking to give it a real presence in all circumstances. We have devised specific lighting solutions and also avoided the use of classic shutters in order to preserve the glass facade. The system providing shade is inside. This will avoid giving the impression of a closed, sleeping, lifeless structure that closed shutters can give.
In the foreground, the future Port d’Animation of Anse du Portier. Photo © Renzo Piano Building Workshop
The building is designed as a floating structure. The openings at its base allow a clear view of the Mediterranean.Photo © Renzo Piano Building Workshop
In the composition of your project, how do you create harmony between the imposing masses of concrete and the final aesthetics you are aiming for through elements as precise as those you have just described?
The opposing aspects you mention are a good thing, they are stimulating. Rather than viewing them as opposites, I’d rather see them as contrasting. Strong protection is needed from the power of the sea. It must be reassuring and therefore also a little visible.
A view of the future seaside promenade. Photos © Renzo Piano Building Workshop
There are also all the aspects of the project that have been described elsewhere; its hill and relief, the pine forest and the vegetated areas. They make it possible to create an identity, a harmony and to embellish the technical aspects. This is the case with the seaside promenade, which rests on the protective caissons. As with the opening created at the base of the main building, the promenade allows the public to make use of the space throughout the extension. The joy of our job is to imagine and find the right balance. It’s difficult but it’s exciting. It also requires permanent research in all fields. From engineering to the ‘final touches’, the project is ever-changing.
Does the project continue to evolve?
The customer is demanding and so are we. In order to optimise what can be done, the dialogue is continuous. This is essential for a project of this size. For example, we are working on applying four environmental certification labels, including the Breeam certification. But if we were to strictly apply its standards, we would end up designing a bunker as this is what they tend to dictate, for example, closed buildings with small windows. Our building is glazed with wide openings to the sea. To solve this constraint, work must be done on the materials used, the quality of the glass and the nature of the thermal insulation. This is where our job is particularly interesting, we have to find solutions.
Photo © Renzo Piano Building Workshop
But it goes even further; in terms of energy performance, the building we are designing is at the forefront of what can be done today. This is reflected in every detail, for example the blinds or the solar cells on the roof. But we also need to be forward-thinking and inventive to find opportunities because technology develops very quickly. We cannot stop our research now. What is currently at the cutting edge may be obsolete in five years. In more ways than one, we really have a unique project before us. It is a challenge in all areas. In the Principality there are many large buildings. The one we are working on will be on the waterfront. It will be extremely visible. Designing it is a very big responsibility.