The view out to the Mediterranean Sea in Monaco is iconic. Stand at the seafront at the famous Port Hercule, and you'll see buildings hugging the cliff-fronts on your left, the ancient Rock of Monaco looming to your right and the topaz water in front of you – partially obscured by a few dozen millionaires’ yachts.
Monaco is a fascinating state. Despite consisting of just two square-kilometres, the principality has hosted a legendary Hollywood royal romance, an iconic Grand Prix race dating back to 1929 and not one but three James Bond films (in just one casino).
It is also one of the most sought-after locations in the world. One million dollars will buy you a mere 17 square meters of prime property, compared to 30 in London. That is just one of the challenges facing construction projects. Monaco’s very limited space, challenging coastal terrain, historical heritage and the most demanding inhabitants in the world combine to make building here a daunting undertaking.
Two new developments in Monaco are looking to meet the high expectations of construction in this iconic location: a luxury housing complex at Portier Cove and a new shopping centre at Fontvielle. So, how will these projects meet the demands of construction in a city called the millionaires’ playground?
Space has been tight in Monaco for a very long time. Nearly 40,000 people rub elbows together in a space slightly smaller than New York’s Central Park. Building options are also limited by the cliffs that rise above the coastal city. As a result, since the nineteenth century, construction projects have reclaimed land from the sea – forming a total of 100 acres, or one fifth of the total space.
Regulators are reluctant to either demolish older buildings or create massive skyscrapers, which risk ruining the aesthetic of the city – so once again, the coastline of Monaco is being extended further into the sea. The Portier Cove project involves extending the coastline into the sea, by a further 15 acres, which will provide accommodation for up to 1,000 wealthy inhabitants.
Sustainability is high on the agenda in Monaco, with the reigning monarch Prince Albert aiming to create a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. The Portier Cove project, therefore, gave serious consideration to the negative impact of reclaiming land on the local marine life. Before work started, protected plant species were moved to a nearby marine reserve – and during the construction phase, special underwater screens will insulate the site to minimise the disruption. Finally, ecological corridors will be used to create a variety of artificial habitats where fish can flourish.
Sustainability will be built into the structures above the ground too, through intelligent heat and energy systems. In the new apartments, large balconies will be used to provide shade and keep temperatures low in summer. Pumps will use sea water to heat and cool the buildings, and together with solar panels that will provide 40% of the energy needed, to reduce the long-term footprint of the development.
Monaco’s natural beauty has always been one of its main attractions, and since ancient times inhabitants have benefitted from the shelter of the Rock of Monaco and the high cliffs. The Fontvieille shopping centre development has tried to complement the existing natural scenery, to blend into the landscape.
The floors will be partly open air, allowing visitors to enjoy beautiful views of the sea and the surrounding cliffs on every level. The structure will also reflect the natural topography, nestling into the cliff with curved tiers gradually descending to the sea. Even the colours have been chosen to reflect Monaco’s history, from the lavender of the hills to the blue of the sea and the grey of the cliffs. Rather than distracting from the harbour’s natural beauty, the new development has been designed specifically to set it off.
Like many urban areas, construction projects in Monaco face the challenge of building in a busy area where many people both live and work. But the issue is intensified in a city where tourism – and particularly luxury tourism – forms a large part of the local economy. The Portier Cove development, for example, is in close proximity to the Fairmont Monte Carlo Hotel, which boasts of offering visitors views of the famous Monaco Grand Prix hairpin bends.
The construction work involves not only blocking parts of the sea view, but generating large volumes of noise. The hotel has even fitted noise sensors in rooms to monitor its guests’ experience. In places like Monaco, where the sophisticated atmosphere is such a key attraction, construction companies are tasked with minimising the disruption caused by each build as much as possible.
The history of Monaco is incredible, from mentions by Roman authors Virgil and Tacitus to hosting residents like Karl Marx and Charles Pathé. Now more attention than ever is being paid to not only preserving historical buildings but – where needed – giving them a second lease of life. Firms like Cycle Up are promoting the potential of the circular economy to ensure that parts of historic buildings aren’t simply lost to demolition, but re-used.
The Villa Carmelha tower in Saint-Roman will be the first in Monaco’s history to provide features like its doors, tiles and false ceilings for re-use elsewhere. The drive towards adopting a circular approach to construction will not only help to preserve the city’s history, but significantly reduce the environmental impact of rebuilding – for a greener future.
These new projects will require some time to take shape. The platform and infrastructure of Portier Cove will be completed in 2020, with the apartments ready for use in 2025. Meanwhile, the new shopping centre in Fontvieille will take two years to complete, once construction begins. By taking a considered approach to construction, developers in Monaco are ensuring their buildings represent a beautiful new stage in the city’s fascinating development.
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