By Ron Bernthal
Nice is well known for its scenic coastline and the lush hills above the city, but it has as many architectural delights as it does natural wonders. From Roman remains to its famous Promenade des Anglais, and from the city’s distinctive Mediterranean orange roofs to the grand villas of the Belle Époque period, the entire city is eye-candy for the soul. But during the past few years new, strikingly modern architecture has been popping up all over this sunbaked city. Designed by notable French and international architects, these projects range from historic restorations to stunning new-builds, creating business, residential, cultural and recreational venues that blend function and form to take advantage of the region’s Mediterranean climate and its envious work/live/play lifestyle.
The Var River, which winds 70 miles through the Maritime Alps and then south along the west side of Nice, eventually flows into the Mediterranean. Before entering the sea, local developers and Nice municpal officials located acres of disused agricultural land to build an environmentally friendly ‘urban technolpolis’ known as Nice Méridia, with a newly designed, very livable community zone called Joia Méridia. Globally, this new type of development is called ‘intelligent urbanism. (Construction of the Arénas district, within the same region, is also ongoing)
Joia Méridia takes up about 60 acres in the heart of Nice Meridia. Located 15 minutes by tram (via the future line 3) from Place Masséna, in center city Nice, and between Grand Arénas, a new international business district being constructed nearby, and Allianz Riviera stadium, the urban technopolis imagined by the architect Christian Devillers is one of the driving forces behind the innovation and economic development in the entire Nice-Ecovalle region.
A new district in the French city of Nice is being organized around a eries of plaza’s, using a select group of architects and designers to create a visually exciting and user-friendly environment. The Metropolitan Plaza on the north end of the new Méridia district is defined by a number of mixed-use high-rise buildings, beautifully designed by several French architectural firms, with the height of the buildings gradually going down until it reaches the central Méridia Plaza, a reinterpretation of the traditional Mediterrean squares that can be found throughout the Cote d’Azur.
The new district, to be composed of gleaming white structures and lush vegetation, is called Joia Méridia, a stunning mixed-use urban project coordinated by French architecture firm Lambert Lénack, and designed by a multidisciplinary team from all around the world. The Méridia project is just one of several new and revitalized building projects in the city that has brought a wonderful jolt of vibrancy and astonishing design to France’s second largest city.
One of the most striking of the structures in the Joia Méridia district is the 177-foot Méridia Tower, where architect Sou Fujimoto will create a building comprised of wavy stacked planes and perforations that let sunlight filter down to ground level. The complex is being constructed on a currently vacant plot of land in the western part of Nice, and will be serviced by rail line that will take commuters to and from the city center in about 15 minutes. At its heart is “Méridia Plaza,” a gathering place filled with palm trees that will offer views of all the surrounding buildings and landscaping. Landscape architect Alain Faragou is working with Roland Carta to develop a green “Patio” with rocks, trees, and a water feature.
The luxury Méridia Tower residential building will have an amorphous brise-soleil at each level, controlling light and heat. It will overlook the Var River Valley, botanical gardens and is not far from Nice’s Cote d’Azur International Airport, southwest of the city center. The contribution of Italian architect Cino Zucchi to the tower is noteworthy, as it will also include housing, retail and a hotel. Zucchi has enclosed each liveable space in the main tower with a system of loggias that encourage outdoor living, socialising and gardening. He has also added a communal garden on the roof.
The Joia Méridia district will also include an aromatic plant garden, an experimental garden, and a 21,500 square-foot vegetable garden. The entire project’s main theme is “freshness,” as exemplified by many “green” areas and the extensive integration of plants into the buildings themselves.
The development, which also includes designs by architects Laisné Roussel Architects, Cino Zucchi, Chartier Dalix, and Anouk Matecki, will cost about $336 million, will have taken about six years to complete since its conception, with the first structures being expected to open in 2021.
ChartierDalix Architects is taking care of private and social housing around Joia Méridia’s main square. The architects have designed everal low-rise buildings, joined by elevated walkways and semi-private meeting places. Deep balconies wrap around the buildings for outdoor living, but the concrete, contemporary materials are softened by vast awnings that somewhat replicate the traditional fabric sunshades on Nice’s main Promendade des Anglais.
Another Méridia structure, by Nicolas Laisné Architects and Dimitri Roussel of DREAM architects, is Anis, an office building completed in 2018 that pushes the internal environment of the building into the open air. Stairs zig-zag up the tower’s façade, linking break-out spaces where workers gather for business meetings or socializing. Deep overhangs regulate the strong Mediterranean sunlight. Within the building itself are vast, flexible open-plan spaces that the office tenants modify as needed.
In 2019 the Université Côte d’Azur, located just north of Nice city center, about 20 minutes from Méridia, launched its new Institute for Partnerships and Innovation, a school for sustainable business, at its satellite campus on the edge of Méridia. Architect Marc Barani (Atelier BARANI) surrounded his energy-efficient building with opalescent glass louvres that allow diffused light, but not heat or cool air, to penetrate the structure, and the open-plan main floor acts as a flexible exhibition and workspace.
Bold and colorful architecture is occuring in other areas of Nice as well. Studio Libeskind, in collaboration with Fevrier Carre Architectes and landscape architect Jean Mus, was selected to design the “Gare Thiers-Est” (East Thiers Rail Station), as a result of an international competition sponsored by the City of Nice.
The area around Nice’s rail hub, about one mile from the city’s center, and the rail station itself, was getting seedy-looking, dangerous and fragmented by train tracks. The new project will link the North and South neighborhoods and Pierre-Mathis road with new pedestrian walkways radiating from a sculptural station pavilion.
Inside the main station building will be two-levels of high-end shops, an auditorium and a roof terrace landscaped by Jean Mus. The project involves designing about 215,000 square-feet of high-end commercial space, including a 120-room hotel, office spaces, a sculptural entry pavilion, a 200-seat auditorium below grade, and a restaurant offering an open rooftop terrace with views of the Mediterranean.
The result will be a sculptural, concrete, steel and glass structure, cut like a diamond, with multiple faces rising nearly 131 feet-high to obscure the rail tracks. The strong architectural identity of the project will be visible from the avenues Thiers and Jean Médecin, as well as from the railway area. Construction, which began in early 2019, is expected to complete in 2021.
Just a six-minute walk from Gare Thiers-Est is the Gare du Sud (South Station). The historic Gare du Sud was once a small, early 19th-century train shed, but is now the centrepiece of a vast renovation project that has transformed the Liberation neighborhood. Located on the edge of the Liberation outdoor market, the revitalization of the Gare du Sud has retained the beautiful features of a previous 19th-century renovation, and added modern amenities and design flourishes.
Inspired by Gustave Eiffel, the station’s original interior was transformed from its historic “shed” style just before the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, creating a larger and more spacious metal train shed, and adding a new glass roof. After years of restoration work that began in the early 2000’s, the grand opening of the new Gare du Sud took place in May, 2019, and was an immediate success among locals and visitors to Nice.
Because of the meticulous restoration and design work by Reichen & Robert Architects the main entrance to the venue is again through the station’s original 19th-century facade. The old waiting and ticketing rooms now house the Raoul Mille library and several exhibition spaces, and the big attraction of the venue is Nice’s first and only gourmet food court (La Halle Gourmande) and public market, located in the station’s former train shed. The 1,600 square-foot interior is a soaring composition of cast iron and glass, mostly the same interior that Gustav Eiffel designed (some of the iron spans came from the original Russian and Austro-Hungarian pavilions of the 1889 World’s Fair, others were re-created).
A wide staircase links the ground floor and mezzanine area on each end. Burnished wood, gleaming metal fixtures and a winter garden help create a stunning and inviting space. The 700 seats include tables and chairs on the ground floor, stools and counters above, plus terraces on each side for al frescodining.
In addition to the restored train station, the project involved the construction of four new residential buildings, shops, a multiplex cinema and an underground car park on three levels.