The new Yacht Club de Monaco (and its distinctive ship-like silhouette) has reinforced the principality’s reputation as the centre of luxury yachting. Lord Foster, chairman and founder of Foster + Partners, the architecture firm behind the project, tells editor Stephanie Drax how
he harnessed the spirit of sailing in steel and glass.

Stephanie Drax: Foster + Partners was appointed to design a new Yacht Club de Monaco in 2003 and the project was completed in 2014. What was your approach and how was the concept developed over that time?

Lord Foster: Our approach was based on research into the needs and aspirations of the different users of the yacht club. Open and integrated with the urban context, it responds to Monaco’s beautifully remodelled harbour front. The terraces are like the deck of a ship and step up along the harbour to offer wonderful views out to races at sea, or inland over the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit. 

The design process was truly collaborative, working closely with the Palace, the Government and a specially appointed Yacht Club de Monaco Commission, as well as a local architect and specialist local contractors. The club needed a high level of flexibility to allow their members and corporate partners to use the various spaces in different ways at the same time. The cascading terraces and external staircases were designed to accommodate the flows from different events, whilst not interrupting the permanent, more tranquil, core spaces of the building. 

SD: What were the complexities of building on reclaimed land?

LF: Before the construction work could begin, the site itself had to be created by reclaiming land from the Mediterranean. A new platform was built by constructing a dike that provided the new site boundary; this was followed by pumping water out and sediments in. This was technically extremely challenging, but a process that Monaco – with its long history of land reclamation projects – is familiar with. The constrained site also made excavation complex, as the construction works had to be sensitive to the nearby Grand Prix circuit as well as the foundations of the neighbouring landmark, the Monte Carlo Star building.

SD: As a nautical commission, how did the Yacht Club de Monaco differ from other projects of yours?

LF: Symbolically, we felt that the yacht club should convey, through its architecture, the spirit of sailing. There are several references to the sea in its wide terraces, which were designed to reflect the decks of a ship and are shaded by fabric screens, supported by masts and booms. 

We have a history of nautical commissions, including the design of several yachts. Our first, in 1993, was the 58m high-speed, high performance motor yacht IZANAMI. Our work in this sphere continued with a fleet for YachtPlus, which was less concerned with speed and more about an outdoor luxury lifestyle. We have also worked on the marine interiors of the 30m sailing yacht DARK SHADOW and more recently the 56m PANTHALASSA. Our latest project was the 20m Alen Yacht, which combines the elegant social spaces of a cruising yacht with the pleasure of a day boat. Part of the appeal of these commissions is that we enjoy the involvement with the long tradition of craftsmanship.

SD: What are your thoughts on the aesthetics of the yacht club’s interior scheme and how they complement the building?

LF: Due to its coastal location, the project features durable, high quality materials throughout, such as environmentally sourced internal hardwood flooring. The external decking with natural stone paving on the quayside is a continuation of the Hercules Port enhancement works. The glass panels on the northern façade along the busy Boulevard Louis II are robust and easy to clean and maintain, and any external metalwork is protected from the corrosive seawater. The landscaping of the public garden with new trees provides natural protection from both the sun and spray at the most exposed part of the site, where it is closest to the Mediterranean. The external terraces also have motorised awnings, which provide shade and can be retracted in high winds to prevent damage. 

One of our fundamental philosophies was that the design of the building should be inspired by, and allow the celebration of, the club's unique heritage. A bespoke exhibition system was integrated into the walls of the main spaces to allow the works of art and objects to be easily displayed and interchanged to tell the story of the Yacht Club.

SD: How did you conceive of the internal configuration of spaces? What are the functions of those spaces and how did they dictate the overall design?

LF: The building was conceived as a city in miniature – it’s a sequence of spaces with clubrooms, schools, offices and restaurants all unified in a single structure and nestled within the dense urban fabric of Monaco. Like a city, there is a network of interior circulation ‘streets’ and a hierarchy of public and private spaces. The landscaped roof of the sailing school complements the city’s green spaces and forms a new link in the pedestrian route between the quayside and Casino Square. The sailing school is part of the Monaco education system and is used by every child.

SD: Finally, how important was the building’s sustainability?

LF: We share the Principality’s commitment to sustainability – this is integral to everything we do, and has been since the inception of the practice in 1967. Our design is very specific to the site, to the patterns of use and our detailed environmental analysis. Monaco’s sunshine is converted into energy by photovoltaic cells and solar thermal panels, and we have taken advantage of the waterfront location by integrating seawater cooling systems. On the harbour elevation, the glass walls can be opened up to allow complete natural ventilation, while a series of carefully positioned louvres provide shade from the sun – all of these are energy-saving measures.

The intricate design of the brise-soleil was inspired by the imagery of yachts and, like a ship, the observation decks are shaded by retractable fabric screens by a mast and booms. The design of the shading systems celebrate the wonderful nautical heritage and traditions of the club.

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