Renzo Piano imagines an incredible building on the sea in Monaco

The project will transform 6 hectares of coastline into building land, while providing public access to the most beautiful seafront scenery.

Par Nick Mafi

Renzo Piano: a major project in Monaco

Monaco, like the Côte d'Azur, needs no advertising to promote its charms. In this respect, a good image is worth a thousand words: it is enough to imagine the azure sea licking the ochre rocks on a seafront planted with palm trees, near a port where monumental yachts are moored. It is also enough to evoke the famous Monte-Carlo Casino, frequented by the stars and crowned heads of the world, to conjure up this legendary atmosphere. In just a few decades, these various attractions have made Monaco the paragon of luxury.

However, the glamour and glitter have a price: the inexorable scarcity of building land on the Rock. Each sovereign has seen this problem as an opportunity to build new land. Prince Albert I (1848-1922) presided over the first policy of expansion of the territory in 1907, the latest phase of which is currently underway, under the watchful eye of Prince Albert II, with delivery scheduled for 2024.

The Renzo, a building to be constructed on Monaco's eighth polder, will be the first to be designed entirely for public access. The creation of a new shopping square designed by Renzo Piano, with restaurants and shops, is also at the heart of the Mareterra project.

Mareterra - a name chosen by the Prince - is a polder that will reclaim 6 hectares of coastline and turn it into building land. This new state-of-the-art project will include 120 residential properties (four townhouses, 10 villas, and 106 main residences), a waterfront promenade, shops, restaurants, and a public square with a restored Alexander Calder work.

This new building space is very timely. In Monaco's most desirable locations, property prices can reach 100,000 euros per square meter. One might imagine that such a feature would dampen the spirits of potential buyers. Yet the opposite is true: walking through the streets of Monaco, one witnesses a veritable choreography of construction cranes. But of all the new real estate projects in the principality, it is certainly Mareterra that is the most talked about.

The interior of the Renzo, where a large living room allows a family to enjoy the view of the sea.

The main reason for this curiosity is the unusual size of the project and the fact that it is built on artificial land. The new building, called Le Renzo, has everything it takes to arouse interest: the 35,000 m2 building, whose layout evokes the shape of a fragmented ship, contains 50 residential units and seems to float on the sea. There was no better architect to give it shape than Pritzker Prize winner Renzo Piano, who has designed a long list of nautical structures. 

« Architecture that endures always tells a seductive story, observes the 84-year-old architect and founder of the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. For example, a house is not just a roof, or a shelter, it is a dialogue between those who live in it and the different periods that marked the history of the territory before they arrived. Our task is to reveal this history ». In the case of Monaco, this sentence is true, as the former fishing village has become a haven for the world's wealthy.

Renzo Piano and his team ensured a balance between interior and exterior in designing the layout of each living unit at the Renzo.
Inside the Renzo, the homes vary in size. The smallest flat measures 400 m2. Here, a bedroom with a private balcony overlooks the sea. Each flat in the first building has a double exposure to the sea.

The city-state's rapid economic growth has been accompanied by changes in demand and taste, but flat design has not evolved to meet the latest requirements. A quick search on the internet gives an idea of the monotony of homes for sale in ageing high-rise buildings with a small footprint. "There is an increased demand for open floor plans with more luxurious outdoor space and amenities," says Guy-Thomas Levy-Soussan, managing director of SAM L'Anse du Portier, the company managing the development and financing of Mareterra (which is working in tandem with Patrice Pastor, the project's founder and one of the nine private shareholders). The Prince, as well as the founders of Mareterra, saw an opportunity to diversify the residential offer by attracting new buyers," continues Guy-Thomas Levy-Soussan, "but beyond that, this project will enrich the public space in Monaco.

A private terrace of the Renzo with a view of the sea.

Architecture always reacts to the limits of the environment it serves. Few challenges are as great as the access to the waterfront in Monaco. Mareterra could easily have been content to reserve this portion of space for the wealthy, but the Prince decided otherwise. The objectives of the various extensions of Monaco's territory to the sea have varied over time," observes Prince Albert II, "but I have personally ensured that the Mareterra project meets Monaco's real estate needs while respecting the environment in which it is located. The development is designed in a sustainable way, respecting the surroundings and quality of life, in order to offer a natural extension of our territory." By ceding almost 8,500 square metres of waterfront to the public (including around 600 metres of cycle paths), Mareterra is implementing a cardinal principle of architecture: to make life more beautiful not only for those who live in the building but also for everyone else.

A view of the Water Gardens, a series of residences with large balconies that are complemented by facilities such as spas, fitness centres, wine cellars, meeting rooms, hair salons, massage parlours and swimming pools.
The 20 x 16 meter swimming pool, reserved for the owners of the Renzo, will be supplied with filtered sea water and renewed daily.

The plan for Mareterra was designed by the Parisian firm Valide & Pistre architectes. It leaves room for a multiplicity of uses for the new land. The intention to make a large part of Mareterra accessible to the public is one of the main factors in the success of this undertaking. For, in addition to the 10,000 m2 of green public spaces designed by landscape architect Michel Desvigne, the public will be able to visit a pavilion containing a major restored work by sculptor Alexander Calder.
The name of Monaco has long been associated with the Formula 1 Grand Prix. While the 93-year-old race has put the name of Monaco on the world map, Prince Albert II's ambitions go far beyond the automobile. For the sovereign is seeking to make Monaco a model of eco-responsibility (the best parking spaces on the Rock are already reserved for electric vehicles). Thus, for the Prince as for the founders of the Mareterra project, ecology and economy must work hand in hand. The extension of the principality's territory was thus an opportunity to invest in the marine life that borders it. We invited international experts to design homes," says Levy-Soussan, "but we also brought in experts to develop the reefs that support the surrounding marine life. Two artificial reef villages have been created to emulate a coral environment. The group claims to have already observed a settlement of these new underwater habitats.

The green public space offers residents and tourists new cultural discoveries.

Mareterra is at the forefront of an architecture in which buildings provide access for all to a common good. Our aim was to create a private building for the residents, while giving the public a sense of openness and accessibility to this new territory," says Renzo Piano. We did this by designing a building that seems to separate itself from the ground, which means that no matter where you are in relation to the building, you can see the sea.

The architects decided that it was essential that the construction of the Renzo be accompanied by the construction of a public promenade on the waterfront.
This concealment of the logistical elements underground allows free movement without cars on the waterfront.

When asked if he finds Le Renzo beautiful, the architect shakes his head: "Talking about beauty is dangerous, because it could be seen as something frivolous. If our building is beautiful, it is because it gives a feeling of infinity."