Only the food shops are currently open in Cap 3000 and, because it’s an enclosed mall, it’s unlikely to re-open fully on 11 May. Prior to lockdown, many of the newer outlets were yet to open or indeed be let. Neither its brand spanking new gym nor its many food outlets will open before June.
One of the (many) attractions of our first French holiday home was its proximity to the outlets of the Cap 3000 shopping centre. Since moving away, I’ve watched its evolution with keen interest. It used to be surrounded by a massive free car park which was typically used during the summer months by sun worshippers, not shoppers. While it would often open on French bank holidays, Cap 3000 used to close on Sundays. This decision was reversed when nearby Polygon Riviera (more of which next week) decided to open 7 days a week.
As Cap 3000 has recently been totally refurbished, I thought I’d look further into its history. Towards the end of the 1960s, Jean Demogé, President and CEO of Galeries Lafayette (formerly Nouvelles Galeries), decided to build a large shopping centre near Nice-Côte d’Azur airport. He chose a vast marshy area on the opposite bank of the river Var, well served by road, rail and bus links for the project.
When it opened on 21 October, 1969, the US-inspired centre was modern, even ahead of its time. It was the first major shopping centre in France, and the first waterfront shopping complex on the Côte d’Azur. Cap 3000 constituted a genuine public space, liked and well used by locals and large numbers from outside the region, also attracting visitors from Italy and Monaco.
Cap 3000 initially consisted of fifty stores over two levels anchored by the major French department store Galeries Lafayettes. In addition, there was a glass-bottomed swimming pool on the roof, mixing leisure and relaxation with its commercial retail function.
Despite its undeniable commercial success, Cap 3000 endured subsequent changes that spoilt its architecture and limited its links to the city. Its open-air car parks had a negative impact on its exceptional location and formed a visual and physical barrier between the complex and its neighbourhood, and the sea. In addition, its retail offerings looked well past their sell by date.
With a change of ownership to Alterea, ambitious new designs were put forward for its refurbishment and extension, increasing the number of outlets six-fold. The first part of these plans debuted in 2016 with renovations to its existing envelope, an extension to the northern block and a much-needed three-storey car park. Simultaneously, the local town hall improved access to the centre.
The new buildings, which complement the existing ones, are encased in wave-shaped canopies tilted at varying angles over several floors. These canopies bring a sense of architectural harmony to the development as a whole. Undulating, ribboned facades link the various buildings together. Its roof is pierced with ribbons of rooflights and the shape of its undulating volumes references aquatic fluidity and a sensual, sleek architecture that evokes the reflections and movements of water.
Cap 3000’s audacious architecture has generated an iconic building visible from Saint Laurent du Var, the sea and the sky. The result gentle and fluid, inspired by the remarkable natural surroundings of the Var delta. More than a simple transformation of the building’s envelope, this extension and renovation has redeveloped the site in its entirety, giving it a new lease of life by reinstating links between Cap 3000, the Var delta ecosystem and Saint Laurent du Var. Reinforced by its landscaping, the centre addresses both its urban and its natural surroundings.
The development’s waves perform more than just a visually unifying function. The large white ribbons of screenprinted glass and coated aluminium protect the glazed facades from the sun and rain. The ribbons begin on the facades of the car parks and give a lightness to the glass, metal and concrete structure, but most importantly they provide a level of comfort for visitors by filtering light and heat. On the car park, depending on their angle, the ribbons give views of the cars and also facilitates the natural ventilation of all five levels of the centre.
In addition, indirect light via a number of lateral windows (carefully controlled to avoid overheating) supplements the light from the skylights. Lateral windows that open, controlled via a building management system, enable free cooling using natural ventilation, either at night in summer or by day in spring and autumn, thereby reducing requirements for cooling systems in the centre’s communal areas.
Cap 3000 remained open during its refurbishment but now lies silent apart from its pharmacy and Monoprix supermarket. The overall effect of COVID-19 on its financial viability has yet to be assessed but, with careful and sensitive management, I hope it’ll bounce back.
All images courtesy of Cap 3000