Event area esplanade Mont Blanc
Compact, in grey as a solid deck
Esplanade Marie-Paradis, Saint-Gervais-les-Bains,
Bonneville, Haute-Savoie, Rhône-Alpes (France)
The Esplanade Marie-Paradis is not just simply any old place in Saint Gervais. The name has a magical connotation for the region. Madame Paradis is a real heroine for the Savoyane: She was the first woman to stand on the mighty, white mountain’s summit. That was in 1808. Last summer, masses of women took off their hiking boots here and sank into the loungers on the grey decks, happily exhausted and extremely proud. A perfect ending to a perfect day in the mountains.
Every year, Marie Fabre from Lyon comes here to an altitude of 900 metres. She sips her cocktail and her eyes light up. “We have just come back from a mountain hike at an altitude of 3,000 metres. To travel down here by train and then to enjoy the beautiful view here at the end of the tour – that is a dream.” Then she points at the decks, covering approximately 900 metres around her: “I still remember that this all used to be concrete. But the wood looks as if it has always belonged here.” A silver-grey surface with a slight sheen in the evening sun. The deck’s colours at Marie’s feet blend in wonderfully with the surrounding Alps. Mountain cabin patina.
Wood composite with tradition and a future
The surface holds a secret: It is only partially wood. It is actually a so-called wood composite, an intelligent material that combines the optical features of traditional construction wood types with the durability of a technical polymer.
The project was looked after by the company Neolife in St. Gervais, a kind of thinktank for solutions using environmentally-friendly construction materials. In 2016, the community asked what one could do with an old ice rink in the centre of the town. Basically, a wasted area. St. Gervais is built against the walls of a valley, the area stuck up like a large balcony from the town towards the mountains.
„Three things were important for the community,” explains Neolife’s Marketing Manager Pierre-Marie Vicalvi , “the area should be available for events, the material used should blend in optically with the traditional building materials used in this region of the Alps, and it should be as environmentally-friendly as possible. Sustainably produced and without chemical pollution.”
Decks for a good conscience
The company Naturinform in Franconian Redwitz specializes in this responsible kind of wood composite. They produce strictly ecologically. No trees are felled for their decks, and only wood flour from saw mills which stems from sustainable forestry is used. The composite material’s organic component is environmentally-friendly polyethylene.
Unlike standard wood, Naturinform’s decks require no environmentally-damaging chemicals for maintenance, and no fungicides or pesticides are used during production. Because the polymer effectively prevents damp permeating at all, the composite material is still weatherproof, even in extreme locations without requiring any further treatment such as painting or sanding: mould fungus or algae cannot find any durable breeding ground.
The extreme climate in the central Alps – summer heat and the cold in winter – means that the wood composite has another great advantage: The plastic component makes it elastic, quite different to natural wood it cannot tear.
Just like nature
Naturinform’s COMPACT, a solid, extruded, and fully coloured multicoloured deck was used here. The decks in St. Gervais have a very special surface: They are optically adapted to fit in with the traditional wood surfaces typical in the Alp region: A graphite grey sheen and a rough-hewn appearance.
Elegant built-in patina
Because Naturinform’s products consist of 70 percent wood fibres, wood dominates the optical features despite its technical refinement, so much so, that natural patina can develop in sunlight. But in a far more controlled way than with pure wood: There are no blackish stains from humidity, and the colour will not pale. The colour particles are applied during the melting procedure, which provides them with a protection layer of polymer. The chosen colour will remain for a long time, the only change being that it will be enriched by silvery patina reflexes in the first four months out in the open.
Custom-made ex works
The carpentry company Cladok which laid the decks benefitted from a special service: From an amount of ten of the same decks, the decks can be custom-made for each individual project in the plant in Redwitz. Only 240-centimetre-long decks were used for the platform – a total of 1,880 pieces. Because there was no need to cut the decks to length, the complete terrace could be completed in only four weeks.
All around the Esplanade Marie-Paradis there are many old hotels with beautifully coloured facades. The terrace is raised above this station square and can be reached via large and small steps that are now also covered with wood and invite visitors to sit comfortably. The platform is not only ideal as a view point at this raised position and as a daily relaxation point, but should also be used as a stage for larger events, such as concerts in the popular holiday resort.
That is why Neolife’s planners had a very special idea: The decks are joined together in modules, each consisting of four decks in a unit of 240 metres length. These rectangles can easily be lifted, making it possible to lay cables for electricity or water pipes perfectly and out of sight between the height-adjusting feet of the underlying construction, just however it is necessary for the different kinds of events.
But that is not really important for mountain climber Marie Fabre: “I just think it is wonderful to be able to sit up here. The mountains are so beautiful, the ground is so wonderfully warm from the sun. This is what a holiday is like…”