It’s a two billion euro project that will forever change the topography of the Principality of Monaco. 60,000m² of new land is to be added to its borders as the nation seeks to find a solution to the growing needs of a demanding population. Riviera Insider met with the director of the government’s Urbanisation en Mer branch, Jean-Luc Nguyen, to learn more about the project and its impact on the environmental and social landscape.
With more than 38,000 people living in a country barely larger than the Vatican City, making it the most densely populated nation in the world, Monaco has been forced to look again to the sea for an answer to its housing crisis some four decades after its last land extension project. Now focusing on the eastern side of the principality, the Monegasque government gave Bouygues Construction a mandate to build a six hectare development in the waters off the Grimaldi Forum and Avenue Princesse Grace at the end of last year, and work has begun in earnest.
“The extension project was born out of a demand for luxury residences in the principality,” says Jean-Luc Nguyen, the government’s director of its Urbanisation en Mer department.
In total, some 120 apartments will be built in five separate blocks – each of a slightly different height that increases the closer the buildings are to the port area – as well as 10 private villas (seven with a direct sea view and another three positioned just behind) and five smaller maisons. Unlike in most Monegasque residential developments, there will be no social accommodation provided here: it is a purely private development. Many of the properties will have their own private swimming pools and generous gardens, which could be argued as the ultimate rare luxuries in a place that has made its name as the home of the world’s wealthiest people.
In addition to these über luxe properties, the development will feature a 30-yacht port with a flagship building designed by Centre Georges Pompidou architect Renzo Pianoand and bordered on all sides by boutiques and shops that will provide a commercial hub for the largely green, public space. An 18-metre high colline (an artificial hill) will act as part public park area and part-extension of the Grimaldi Forum while two promenades will follow the boundaries of the development: one along the existing Japanese gardens and one tracing the seaside edge of the extension. There are also plans to build a 600-space underground carpark that will be reached from the roundabout that currently links Boulevard Larvotto and Avenue Princesse Grace. Jean-Luc Nguyen explains that the new eco neighbourhood will be entirely pedestrianised, although owners of the seafront apartment blocks and private villa complexes will have access to parking via an underground road that extends from the roundabout.
The Monegasque government itself is making no financial investment in the two billion euro-project (one billion will be swallowed by the construction of the platform, while the other billion will go towards buildings, infrastructure and its vast architect and engineering fees), but it will ultimately profit in several ways once the project is completed: taxes gained through the purchase of properties, commercial taxes on the businesses who set up in the new neighbourhood, and through the ownership of the newly formed land.
The project is in the middle of a dredging phase as tonnes of silt are scrapped away from the sea floor to expose the bed rock. In the next few months, this will be covered by a several-metre high gravel base, which in turn provides a foundation for the 18 concrete caissons (chambers that will create a sturdy boundary between the sea and the development). In autumn this year, construction of the trapezium-shaped, 26-metre high caissons will begin in the port of Marseille before they are floated two at a time by sea to the site- a journey that takes several days. The first caissons are expected to be in place in spring 2018 with the final blocks in place during the first half of 2019. Once they are secured and backfilled with rock to ensure stability– both against the sea and land-based risks such as earthquakes – Bouygues Construction will then start filling the water-logged interior space with sand and pumping out any remaining water.
Creating a habitat for Monaco’s rich biodiversity is a crucial element of the project. The caissons themselves will be partially clad in rough concrete panels with a pH of eight or nine (typically, concrete has a pH13) to encourage marine life to colonise the walls. Other artificial habitats will be added at the base and top of the caissons.
Regarding energy, Nguyen explains that around 50% of all energy required by the extension’s properties will be produced on-site: “Rainwater for watering plants and the fountains, using the temperature of the sea to regulate the buildings in the summer and winter, solar panels on the roofs… We conducted thorough studies into sun and wind patterns so we know exactly where to place these technologies.”
The extension is situated between the Spélugues coral reef to the west and the Larvotto reserve to the east, and both could be detrimentally affected by the project. “We aren’t arrogant enough to say that the development will have no affect on the environment,” says a sincere Nguyen, “but we will be doing everything we can to limit this.”
Efforts include suspended underwater barriers latitudinally and the relocation of species such as Monaco’s impressive noble pen shells (also known as fan mussels), which can grow up to 1m, and its fields of Posidonia Oceanica seagrass. Both have already been successfully transported en masse to the Larvotto reserve.
Even the unusual shape of the extension has been guided by ecological principles; its curved eastern edge allows the continuation of water currents sweeping into Larvotto. This was a major flaw of the proposed 2007 land extension, which was to be in the same place, but larger, and cut off these essential currents.
Following the competition of the project - “By 2025, hopefully!” - Nguyen says that extensive clean-up works will be performed in both the reef and the reserve to ensure Monaco’s marine biodiversity is given every chance to grow and develop alongside the development.
But the land extension is controversial for reasons beyond environmental concerns; there has been no public consultation regarding its construction and there will be no compensation for home owners and businesses who will lose their coveted sea views when the new properties go up.
“Situations like this are hardly normal in Monaco,” says Nguyen of the land extension, “and there is no system for renumeration, financial or otherwise. This is a project that responds to a specific need. The population is increasing all the time and that is thanks to Monaco’s attractiveness. If people living here are against the project – something that will encourage the attractiveness of the principality – then they are against the development of Monaco.”
Despite the lack of public consultation regarding the land extension – there are no figures to tell us how many people are in support of the project – Nguyen explains that the government has communicated with residents and the nation’s French neighbours throughout the planning process.
“If you are not a specialist in this subject, then it can all seem quite alarming. This is one of the reasons for the opaque barrier [along the existing sea wall]. One boat was recently excavating the large rocks at the bottom of the wall and it was getting full and very low in the water… I had phone calls asking if it was going to sink right there even though it was safe.” The barrier, which will be in place for at least another five years, is the main method employed to reduce noise pollution for local residents and businesses.
While land extensions might not be a frequent occurrence in the principality, it does have a good level of experience when compared to other nations: around 20% of its 2km² has been taken from the sea in areas including Fontvieille, Sporting and the Larvotto beaches. The land extension in Fontvieille, which took place four decades ago, remains the most modern large-scale example.
“In many ways, this project is very similar and uses similar techniques [to Fontvieille], but it also very different in terms of environmental awareness,” explains Nguyen.
“We travelled around the world to find out about innovative construction techniques,” he continues,“and we haven’t found anywhere that will bring together the same level of environmental awareness as here. Safe construction and protecting the environment are our key objectives, but it will be a complex process for the next four years. Once the platform is built, the project will then move on to a more classical style of development.”
It is not yet known what the new quartier will be called. At the moment, the development is being referred to as Anse de Portier with names for streets and squares like Place de Basse or Place de Haute, which do little to reflect the intended environmentally friendly identity of the project. This will come in time and Nguyen puts a date of mid-2020 as the time when interest in the project’s real estate will begin. There are no numbers available yet with regards to the estimated prices of these multi-million euro addresses, but they are sure to be unlike anything even this privileged postcode has seen before.