Alvéole 14

Saint- Nazaire, France

The harbor

The submarine base of Saint-Nazaire, constructed by the German Navy during World War II, is directly located at the harbor of the old town. It has an enormous scale (295 m x 130 m x 18 m) with concrete walls up to 9 meters thick. This raw and impressive structure is transformed with minimal interference. Two of the 14 former submarine cells are transformed into cultural elements: The Life and The VIP.

The submarine base and the city

The central location in the old town made it the target of air raids from 1942 onwards, which destroyed 85 % of the city.
Reconstruction of the city began in 1949 further away from the harbor under the direction of the architect Noël le Meresquier. The virtually unscathed bunker remained a powerful obstacle between the city and the harbor.

Project "Ville-Port"

Since the 1990’s, the city of Saint-Nazaire has made efforts to revive the historical link between the city center and the harbor. In 1991, lighting artist Kersale illuminated the industrial harbor with his project, "Nit des Docks". In 1994, the urban planning project "Ville-Port" was started.
Batteux, the mayor of Saint-Nazaire, declared the base as central to the future development of the city. In the first phase, under the direction of the Barcelonan architect Manuel de Solà-Morales, four cells at the center of the bunker opened up and the roof was fitted with a ramp accessible to the public.

Alvéole 14

The project consists of 4 elements:
The Life, a space for emerging art forms; The VIP, hosting contemporary music events, recording studios, and an archive; the Street, the main conduit traversing the entire Bunker, connecting the various programs and creating interaction between each of the cells; and the roof and Radom.

The Street

A ‘carpet of light’ hanging from the ceiling made of metal rods and Led´s defines the space, shaping dark volumes along this path between old and newly created spaces.
A vertical Piranesi's shaft was created to bring natural light into the tunnel and to connect the main spaces to the upper floors and roof.

The Life

The LIFE is a 90 m x 20 m x 18 m Monospace.
Occupying the bulk of the former submarine basin, it has been equipped minimalistically: corrugated metal ceiling; two scenic walkways; a retractable gate opening onto the harbor; a concrete floor mixed with quartz powder. The vertical walls have no treatment.


The VIP is designed as a black box venue for contemporary music performances: perfect acoustic control, 600-person capacity, equipment catwalks, and recording studios.
A bar overlooks the double-height space.

The roof and the radome

The bunker is intrinsically ambivalent: it is at once a barrier and a hub. By invigorating the roof through a focal visual point and making it visually approachable, it has the potential to become one of the most important public sites of the city.
A large stairway rises through a hole in the bunker ceiling opening onto an experimental platform housing the radome: a geodetic dome construction that was previously in use as a covering for the strategic radar unit at the Berlin Tempelhof Airport from 1984 until 2003. Its aluminium frame makes up 298 triangles, each covered with a translucent membrane.

Dismantling the radome

In July 2004, the radome was lifted from its original position on top of the tower at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin with the help of a 120-meter high crane. It was subsequently dismantled into its basic triangular elements.

Think tank

The radome holds a room for experimentation intended for the conception of art and music projects – a "think tank" in lightweight construction.

Project Data


Transformation of the submarine base in Saint-Nazaire into cultural space

Client: Ville de Saint-Nazaire

Status: 2003-2007, Competition 1st prize: March 2003; Realization: October 2005

Location: Alvéole 14, Quartier Ville Port, Saint-Nazaire, France

Cost: 7,1 Mio €

Surface: 5.200m²



Architects: Architecture: LIN Architects Urbanists, Berlin/Paris: Finn Geipel, Giulia Andi, Hans-Michael Földeak (project manager), David Lettelier (competition), Timo Foerster, Marc Dujon, Philip Hegnauer, Simon-Martin Schultze, Philip Rieseberg, Marie Taveau, Cécile Grelier, Annabelle Munch, Amélier Poencety, Aurelie Berhault, Thomas Kupke, Nacera Mahi; Structural engineers: Pierre-Olivier Cayla, Batiserf Ingeniere, Grénoble; Construction economy: Michel Forgue, Paris, Le Rivier d’Apprieu; Building services: Louis Choulet, Clermont-Ferrand; Scenography: Gérard Fleury, Architecture & Technique, Paris; Acoustic engineers: Yaying Xu, Paris, Bruno Suner, Altia Acoustique, Paris; On-site engineer:  Robert Richou, Océanis Ingénierie, St. Nazaire; Climatic studies: Matthias Schuler, Transsolar, Stuttgart; Theories and cultural critique: Joseph Hanimann, Paris; Model: Werk 5; Programation: Christoph Wavelet; Photography: Christian Richters, Jan-Oliver Kunze.

The harbor
SNA-01-ESS-LIN-Saint-Nazaire 2000
Image 1/11 SNA-01-ESS-LIN-Saint-Nazaire 2000
The submarine base and the city
 SNA-02-ESS-LIN-Saint-Nazaire 1945
Image 2/11 SNA-02-ESS-LIN-Saint-Nazaire 1945
Project "Ville-Port"
Image 3/11 SNA-03-ESS-LIN-Planmasse
Alvéole 14
SNA-04-ESS-LIN-Bunker 1944 and 2007
Image 4/11 SNA-04-ESS-LIN-Bunker 1944 and 2007
The Street
 SNA-05-ESS-LIN-Night view of the Bunker, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
Image 5/11 SNA-05-ESS-LIN-Night view of the Bunker, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
SNA-06-ESS-LIN-Internal street during inauguration, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
Image 6/11 SNA-06-ESS-LIN-Internal street during inauguration, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
The Life
 SNA-07-ESS-LIN-Center for emerging art forms Life, photo: Christian Richters
Image 7/11 SNA-07-ESS-LIN-Center for emerging art forms Life, photo: Christian Richters
SNA-08-ESS-LIN-Musiques actuelles - VIP, photo: Christian Richters
Image 8/11 SNA-08-ESS-LIN-Musiques actuelles - VIP, photo: Christian Richters
The roof and the radome
 SNA-09-ESS-LIN-The roof, illustration: Adrian König
Image 9/11 SNA-09-ESS-LIN-The roof, illustration: Adrian König
Dismantling the radome
SNA-10-ESS-LIN-Tempelhof 07 2004
Image 10/11 SNA-10-ESS-LIN-Tempelhof 07 2004
Think tank
SNA-11-ESS-LIN-The radome 05 2007 view of the roof, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
Image 11/11 SNA-11-ESS-LIN-The radome 05 2007 view of the roof, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
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