A tree lined boulevard encircles the ancient walled city of Nîmes, punctuated by three major public spaces – the Maison Carré, the Arènes and the place Gabriel Péri. Situated within the latter, ‘La Porte Romaine’ lies between three prominent historic structures: the Porte d’Auguste – the Roman gate to the city – St Baudile Church and Nîmes University. The challenge of the site was to sensitively insert a new apartment block into the city’s historic fabric, while providing an appropriate setting for the ancient Porte d’Auguste and reinstating one of the city’s major squares.
The masterplan includes new paving and landscaping, and a re-direction of traffic to bring pedestrian life back into the square. The new residential building forms a restrained backdrop to the new public space, providing sixty new apartments above offices and retail units.
Its robust façade echoes the Roman Arènes nearby, with its geometrical openings and deep shadows, and also takes inspiration from the traditional façades of the old city – their balconies, louvred shutters and celebration of entrances – reinterpreting them in a subtle and contemporary manner.
Careful consideration has been given to the detailing and materials used for construction while maintaining the subtlety and finesse of detail. The construction uses a simple palette of galvanised metal and masonry, primarily pre-cast concrete made from local aggregate to match the limestone used in many buildings in Nîmes. The building also affords spectacular views of the square from its wide private terraces with galvanised steel shutters. This allows residents complete control over natural ventilation, light control and privacy, also making the terraces a flexible, personalised space between the outdoors and indoors.
The external finishes of the building have deliberately been chosen to age well, gathering a patina as the years go by and blending in with the historic square. The interiors of the building, given its residential nature are more private, the lush, green courtyard is contrasted with the more mineral, hard public square. The building while respecting the scale and proportion of place Gabriel Péri, makes a civilised contribution to its urban regeneration.
Text by Foster+Partners