© Cyril Carpentier
Construction of

Port Grimaud

More than forty years of construction to bring a must-see place on the French Riviera, in France, perhaps even the world to life… How did Port Grimaud rise out of the ground (or the sea)?

THE BEGINNING

A budget to find

Once the swamps were acquired, it was time for François Spoerry to start his dream.

The first budgets were very meagre and limited. So the architect, in a way, passed the hat around to his family, his friends, his plumber, and so on to launch his project.
He promised them a refund or one of the future houses in Port Grimaud. We now know that this investment was more than wise when we see the craze around the little Provençal Venice.

CONVINCING THE INVESTORS

A challenge

With a limited budget making an offshore structure was impossible. François Spoerry started with the River Giscle and then made a sea gate afterwards.

The first phase along the beach took shape and already attracted the curious. The shrewd François Spoerry, always looking for money for his project, tried a charm offensive:
Since the boats could not pass easily through the river throughout the year, he had boats moved with a crane to their supposed moorings in front of the house.
This perfect image of the boat next to his house convinced the investors very quickly.

Success was forthcoming: François Spoerry obtained financing and built 365 pretty and inexpensive houses a year.

Many colors for

a new architecture

In the back of his mind, the architect was always thinking of Greek or Italian ports like the Cinque Terre. These shapes and colours caught his eye.
He decided to turn Port Grimaud into a Provençal-style village, inspired by the region and his sea voyages.

This project was a new way to proceed for him as he was accustomed to offering modern architecture instead.
His peers, for that matter, were somewhat critical of him. Port Grimaud was decried because at that time, flat roofs, glass walls and monochrome were fashionable. The buildings in the area, in the Alpes Maritimes department for example, were rather large concrete buildings and were intended to be hotels. François Spoerry wanted a village.

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The house

The fisherman’s accessory

Each house was different and had its own personality: shutters, balconies, colours, and so on were never the same. This to impart charm, provide views and avoid monotony at all costs.
François Spoerry wanted gentle architecture that would integrate into the place.

Although today it is these colourful houses that attract the most attention of locals and visitors, for the architect the boat has always remained the centre of his project.
To him, the house is for pottering about, storing stuff for his boat, grabbing quick bite – a simple annex to his ship.

He pointed out that it is called “the fisherman’s house”: it is the house that has a fisherman and not the other way around.

It is this vision that explains why the houses are narrow. A boat is 4-m wide, so the houses would be also.
This very simple plan allowed him the best yield.

ART OF RECYCLING

Recycling and saving

Wanting to save on the price of materials and put a unique stamp on his dream, François Spoerry did a lot of recycling.

At that time, many districts were destroyed in the region and in France. He then salvaged roof tiles, benches, lampposts, leaflets, tiles, telephone poles, beams, grates, and so on, which are still in Port Grimaud today.

Success

Strong property development

Several times, François Spoerry had to revise his plans. His vendors explained to him that not all future inhabitants would arrive by sea and although the idea was that they own their own boat, Port Grimaud would quickly be a resort where you arrive by car.
On these tips, he added roads, parking, terraces and gardens to make the most of his home.

All these amenities and the beauty of the place of course caused prices to skyrocket, especially the surrounding land. François Spoerry bought them little by little to expand his dream until he acquired the present-day 90 hectares.
He paid 30 times more for this land than the first 30 hectares.

House prices also increased, about 20 fold between the start and end of the project. The first houses were worth between 70,000 and 100,000 francs, some today are worth millions.

François Spoerry then said “I sold the best cheaper and the not so good at a higher price” (not so good because further from the sea so the time to reach it by boat is longer).

Port Grimaud

The incredible result

The layout of Port Grimaud that we know today is not exactly that imagined by the architect, but having created a thriving tourist town and the construction site having taken years to complete, the metronome of the lakeside town adjusts its plans on an ongoing basis.

Port Grimaud is often called the “little Provençal Venice” and compared to our neighbour in the Bouches du Rhône department, Martigues. Mr. Xavier Bohl, the current architect in charge of ensuring the wishes of François Spoerry for Port Grimaud, assures that the plans of the lakeside town are in no way similar to Martigues, Bruges or Venice.

It was an innovative concept that was unique in the world when it was created. François Spoerry was then called around the world to reproduce this concept – Turkey, Louisiana, New York, Mexico, Japan, Lebanon…

END OF THE PROJECT

The architect’s gaze

At the end of his life, François Spoerry gained international recognition for this project and thus exported his ideas all over the world.

He felt immense pride in all the work he had accomplished. He would have only one regret – not being able to complete the construction of social housing on Rue du Septentrion.

Thanks to Mr. Xavier Bohl and Mr. Roger Roudeau for the history of Port Grimaud.