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.
Landscaper Michel Desvigne is responsible for the mineralisation and vegetation of the offshore extension. The entire range of Mediterranean plants that can be found around the Principality will be integrated into the development. A large number of the plants are pre-cultivated, and the first phase of implantation will begin in 2020 at the Portier roundabout. In this case, as with the construction of the maritime infrastructure or of future buildings, very specific techniques and engineering must be used to create this landscape and obtain a natural environment in a totally artificial context.
Thierry Apparu: Can you describe the spirit of what you want to create in this new district in terms of landscape?
Michel Desvigne: It is the natural geography and the representation we have of it that largely determines the Anse du Portier project. The seabed dictates with precision the shape of the extension, which appears as a kind of replica of the natural reliefs. We have imagined a plant world that evokes the endemic Mediterranean landscape that can be observed around Monaco. A landscape is a succession of horizon lines. As it is one of these natural lines that we transpose to Anse du Portier, using Mediterranean flora was an obvious choice. But it is a singular and resolutely contemporary choice in this region of renowned exotic gardens. We preferred to evoke the local landscape and nature, rather than create an exotic setting as was done in the 19th century.
Anse du Portier is home to an abundant Mediterranean plant world. Photo © Valode & Pistre Architectes
How do you create a natural space on an artificial site?
The extension is artificial but its dimensions are precisely the same as those of some natural peninsulas. It is therefore a ‘landscape unit’ of critical size and strict continuity. These exceptional dimensional conditions are of course favourable and necessary for this naturalistic vision. But it is not just a kind of formal metaphor: The creation of fertile, abundant and continuous soil, despite the extraordinary complexity of the built infrastructure, illustrates this unique approach. It is quite literally the installation of a substrate on the scale of a natural landscape. Vegetation is planted according to soil, different depths and the slopes. There is a coherence between artificial reliefs, the soil created and the different plant forms
Can it be considered a reintroduction of a natural environment into an urban environment?
The gardens of Japanese temples are often miniature reproductions of natural environments within urban areas. More recently in the 1980s, the Emperor of Japan had a sample of the natural woods that were destroyed by the extension of Tokyo reconstructed within the palace park. These references support our efforts as 21st century landscape architects. In the case of Anse du Portier, it is our ambition to not only establish a Mediterranean ecosystem, but to offer the use of a park and to achieve the miniaturised refinement of a garden. Given the size, this experience can legitimately be considered as the reintroduction of a natural environment into the city.
The eco-district is defined as the reintroduction of the natural environment within the urban environment. Photo © Valode & Pistre Architectes
How is the composition of the local flora organised?
We are inspired by observing the local Mediterranean flora just as botanists do, and we consider successive layers. The plants are organised into superimposed levels in the same way as natural vegetation, so the composition imitates the natural environment. However, it is a garden, not a scrubland, and some varieties of plants are necessary for their colour or texture even though they sometimes deviate from strict botanical rigour.
A view of the pine forest. Photo © Valode & Pistre Architectes
It is necessary to cultivate today what will be planted in a few years on the site of the offshore extension. How is this long preparatory period going?
Indeed, the offshore extension project and more particularly the landscape project is part of a development process that is spread over several years. We are using this time to cultivate and prepare the vegetation that will be planted in the final years of construction. This approach allows us to guarantee already-formed vegetation with trees almost reaching their maturity when planted. Plants and tall trees such as Aleppo pines and umbrella pines are now being grown on a cultivation site with an environment as similar as possible to the future conditions of the site. This specific nursery is located in Italy, by the sea and a cultivation contract has been established with the Innocenti & Mangoni Piante nursery to ensure their proper development. This ex-situ production process for the plants that make up the future landscape of the extension allows us to prepare plants in real conditions with an aesthetic aim, beyond a simple production process found in traditional nurseries. The prefabrication of this landscape is more delicate than simple production, it requires meticulous monitoring, careful maintenance and a capacity for selection, the objective being obviously to ensure the health of the plants but also their aesthetic arrangement. The implementation and monitoring of this project-specific nursery is the result of work carried out with our team, nursery owners and engineers specialising in botany and fertile land. The second step is to move and transplant this vegetation onto the site.
Is it necessary to introduce a lot of diversity, even within the same species (size, age), to obtain the desired ‘natural’ result?
A diversity of strengths within the vegetation used is necessary but must be controlled. For example, we try to maintain visual transparency between shrubs and tree foliage. This determines minimum sizes. A very important element is the density of the plantations. In natural environments it is often high, much more so than in parks. Therefore, we prescribe high densities for each level of plantation. These conditions also promote a natural appearance when plants grow.