Monaco is a principality in constant transition, no project currently more attention-grabbing as the six-hectare land reclamation development underway off the coast at Larvotto. Europe Diplomatic Magazine sits down with Bouygues Travaux Publics to learn more about the maritime infrastructure for L’Anse du Portier that the company is on track to deliver.
It seems only fitting that the Monaco office of Bouygues Travaux Publics (Bouygues) is located in the Fontvieille business district, deep in the heart of what today remains the leading example of the Mediterranean principality’s ability to conjure up habitable territory from the sea that borders it. In a state where space has always caused planning headaches, reclaiming land from the ocean offers a viable solution and currently accounts for 40 hectares, or 20 per cent, of Monaco’s total territory.
By 2025, however, that baton is set to be passed across the principality, when the first residents move into the luxury waterfront apartments and handful of individual villas of Monaco’s newest district: L’Anse du Portier (or, as it is often referred to in English, Portier Cove), just off the coast of Larvotto and in front of the Grimaldi Forum and Japanese Gardens. If reports are true, the price per square metre on this new six-hectare slice of territory is set to reach €100,000, making it perhaps the most expensive residential district in the world.
But before the first blocks in architect Renzo Piano’s designs can be laid, the platform must be finished – and it’s exactly this reason that brings me to the Bouygues office this sunny spring morning. The atmosphere is ordered and serious as I wait to meet Caroline Valentin-Bruneval, although I wouldn’t expect anything less from the team that is responsible for laying the foundations for such an ambitious and innovative development.
“At the height of the project, including the team in Marseille making the caissons, we employed 700 people,” Valentin-Bruneval tells me. “Today, now that they are all completed, we’re probably down to around 300 employees.” If you live in France or Monaco, Bouygues is a name you’re undoubtedly familiar with. With interests in communications, construction and media (The Bouygues Group has a 43 per cent stake in the TF1 Group), CEO and chairman Martin Bouygues is one of France’s richest men.
Bouygues Travaux Publics, its construction arm, was awarded the contract for the design and construction of the maritime infrastructure in July 2015, and after more than two years of studies and preparation, the first caisson arrived from Marseille on July 22nd, 2018. In total, 18 of these watertight chambers have been fabricated out of reinforced concrete to create a protective band around the reclaimed land. Each measures 26 metres in height and weighs 10,000 tonnes.
“Tomorrow, we’re all set to lay caisson number 11,” Valentin-Bruneval reveals enthusiastically. “So we’re more than halfway through.” This part of the works is set to be completed by the end of July and, as she happily explains, they are right on time. “Since the beginning of the project we’ve given ourselves a little bit of leeway because the caissons are coming from Marseille by water and the weather has to be favourable or else we cannot get underway.”
Each caisson takes around a day to place on the bare bedrock and once every caisson is in place “we will fill the interior with ballasted sea water and weigh them down with quarry materials, which will close the band,” she explains. After this, the final stage of the maritime infrastructure can begin, which will involve a dredger delivering 60,000 cubic m2 of sand extracted from northern Sicily every 80 hours. At the end of the ten-weekend program, Monaco’s newest district will start to rise from the ocean.
Bouygues anticipated four and a half years to complete the maritime infrastructure and looks set to meet the delivery timeline. “The only obstacle we’ve really met is the weather,” she says. “Of course, when you’ve got bad sea or lots of wind, it’s impossible to work when everything is based on water.” As early as next year, construction of the superstructure will begin, but that doesn’t mean that Bouygues’ work is finished. “We will continue to be here for some civil engineering work, as well as environmental monitoring,” she explains.
The project is the brainchild of H.S.H Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco, who wanted to create an eco-quarter that would serve as an example of sustainable living for the rest of the world to emulate. Initially, Valentin-Bruneval tells me, the idea was to build a floating island connected to the mainland by a bridge, in the style of developments in Dubai or Hong Kong. “After expert studies, however, we were advised that we are in a very seismic zone with very deep seabeds,” she says. The only location along the whole of Monaco’s coastline with a depth less than 50 metres was identified just off the coast of the Hôtel Fairmont Monte-Carlo and the Grimaldi Forum. “So the form of this new district has been dictated by the sea,” she continues.
Once completed, L’Anse du Portier will house 60,000m2 of residential properties, 3,000m2 of commercial space, a marina with approximately 30 berths, a waterfront boulevard, parking, as well as gardens and other public areas – all built on the maritime foundations constructed by Bouygues. Monaco’s first eco-district, “it will be exclusively pedestrian, there will be solar panels, an extension of the Japanese Garden, and an artificial hill,” she explains.
But these environmentally-friendly measures have also been incorporated below eye level. “The concrete used to make the caissons has been specially created to allow flora and fauna to rehabilitate in it,” she says. “We undertook many studies, tested a variety of different concretes and, in the end, we chose that which would be perfect for the new underwater residents.”
The new district borders the Larvotto Marine Reserve to the north-east and the Spélugues coral reef to the south-west and, from the very start of this project, ensuring the protection of the underwater life has been an absolute priority. “We are the first construction company in the world to have moved species before starting work, something we are very proud of,” she says. Each species found inside the perimeter – from Posidonia to Pinna Nobilis (a large species of Mediterranean clam) and corals – has been painstakingly transplanted to artificial habitats created to the left and right of the platform. The company has made a commitment to monitor the progress of each and every species for another ten years.
Which has necessitated not only the employment of a team of expert marine biologists but plenty of technological innovation as well. Over 500m2 of Posidonia Oceanica has had to be re-housed and, working with partners Andromède Océanologie, a new instrument has been developed which delicately excavates the mound of Posidonia into a protective basket. “We created this device because there was nothing like it in existence,” she says. Underwater turbidity screens have also been erected to limit the dissipation of fine particles.
A specialist in communication, Valentin-Bruneval has been involved in some of the region’s most exciting – and iconic – developments; from the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice to Monaco’s soaring Tour Odéon and Lord Norman Foster’s distinctive Yacht Club de Monaco. But, as she lights up discussing the sustainable practices being undertaken by Bouygues, I get a glimpse of just how special this particular project is. “I am always amazed by the magic of engineering, what man can do between thought, drawing and after that, the actual construction,” she beams.
Especially in Monaco, where ingenuity is perpetually tested to the limits in the name of town planning.
BOUYGUES – Exporting French expertise around the globe
Monaco’s L’Anse du Portier is far from the only landmark development for Bouygues Travaux Publics. Some of the French construction company flagship projects include La Nouvelle Route du Littoralin La Réunion, at 5.4km long the longest Viaduct in France, Tanger Med I and Med II Ports in Morocco, and the 55km Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge, the longest ocean crossing in the world.