Le Havre, the City Rebuilt by Auguste Perret
The city of Le Havre, on the English Channel in Normandy, was severely bombed during the Second World War. The destroyed area was rebuilt according to the plan of a team headed by Auguste Perret, from 1945 to 1964. The site forms the administrative, commercial and cultural centre of Le Havre. Le Havre is exceptional among many reconstructed cities for its unity and integrity. It combines a reflection of the earlier pattern of the town and its extant historic structures with the new ideas of town planning and construction technology. It is an outstanding post-war example of urban planning and architecture based on the unity of methodology and the use of prefabrication, the systematic utilization of a modular grid, and the innovative exploitation of the potential of concrete.
Justification for Inscription
Criterion (ii): The post-war reconstruction plan of Le Havre is an outstanding example and a landmark of the integration of urban planning traditions and a pioneer implementation of modern developments in architecture, technology, and town planning.
Criterion (iv): Le Havre is an outstanding post-war example of urban planning and architecture based on the unity of methodology and system of prefabrication, the systematic use of a modular grid and the innovative exploitation of the potential of concrete.
The post-Second World War reconstruction plan of Le Havre is a landmark in the integration of urban planning traditions and a pioneer implementation of modern developments in architecture, technology and town planning. It is based on the unity of methodology and system of prefabrication, the systematic use of a modular grid, and the innovative exploitation of the potential of concrete.
Being at the mouth of the river Seine, the site of Le Havre was always strategic for access inland, to Rouen and Paris. Because of the estuary and its marshes, the decision to establish a seaport for Rouen was only taken in the 1517. As a result of the European discovery of America the port gained in importance and, in 1541, François I commissioned Sienese architect Bellarmato to plan an extension. The quarter of Saint-François was designed on the basis of a Renaissance grid-plan. In the 17th century, Le Havre (harbour) continued developing its commercial links with America and Africa. Minister Colbert authorized the construction of an arsenal, transferring the naval dockyards to the area of Perrey.
The plan to rebuild Le Havre was conceived during the Second World War. In summer 1944 Auguste Perret (1874-1954) took the lead in the project of reconstructing the town. Perret had studied in the École des Beaux-Arts; he was trained in the spirit of classicism and had the inheritance of the 19th-century technical developments. He obtained solid experience in the development of the techniques of reinforced concrete. Some of his early architectural designs, such as the flats in the Rue Franklin in Paris (1903) and Notre-Dame du Raincy (1923) have been recognized as masterpieces of early modernism.
Taking into account the soil conditions and high water table, it was proposed to construct the entire city on a reinforced concrete platform about 3.50 m above ground level, a revolutionary initiative that would have facilitated the building of infrastructures. Owing to the limits of cement and iron in the post-war period, it was not authorized, although the general master plan was carried out. The project was based on a basic grid module of 6.24 m2 . The lots were laid out on a 100 m grid, although some were combined to make larger lots. Construction lasted until 1964, when the Church of Saint-Joseph was consecrated.
The project corresponds to the architect's ideal to create a homogenous ensemble, where all the details are designed to the same pattern, thus creating a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk in the urban scale. Perret reserved some of the most important public buildings as his personal design projects. A few buildings that had not been destroyed in the bombardment were retained as part of the new town scheme. Even though the Saint-François quarter was also destroyed, several historic buildings remained standing, and were protected in 1946. As a result, the plan of this area was mainly based on the old street pattern.
Basing the design of the buildings and open spaces on 6.24m square module of a square was to facilitate the production, but also to introduce 'musical harmony' into the city. The average density was reduced from the pre-war 2,000 to 800 inhabitants to a hectare. The spirit of the town was conceived as 'neoclassical', where the building blocks are closed and the streets remain streets. The essence of Perret's project is in structural design, which was based on an avant-garde use of reinforced concrete elements, a system called poteau dalle. The idea of the structure is to make it modular and completely transparent so that no structural elements remain hidden. This gives the dominating character and a certain uniformity to all architecture. However, the elements are used in skilful way so as to avoid boredom.
The Porte Océane is a monumental entrance to Avenue Foch and an entrance to the city from the sea, taking the idea of the ancient gate destroyed in the war. This building also became an experimental 'laboratory' for the development of the structural system and methods of construction for the project. The square Saint-Roch is located in the place of an earlier public park and cemetery, which has given some its orientations to the new design. The Hôtel de Ville (town hall) is the most monumental structure in the whole scheme and its central part is marked by an 18-storey tower 70 m high.Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Being at the mouth of the river Seine, the site of Le Havre was always strategic for the access to the inland, to Rouen and Paris. Due to the estuary and the marshy lands, the decision to establish a seaport for Rouen was only taken in the early 16th century (1517). As a result of the discovery of America, the port gained in importance, and in 1541, Kind François I commissioned architect J. Bellarmato from Siena to plan an extension. This area was the quarter of Saint-François, and it was designed on the basis of a Renaissance grid-plan. In the 17th century, Le Havre (meaning ‘harbour') continued developing its commercial links with America and Africa. Minister Colbert authorised the construction of an arsenal, transferring the naval docks to the area of Perrey. It was from here that Lafayette started his trip to go to fight America in 1779.
At the end of the 18th century, Le Havre was one of the four principal ports of France, and in 1786, a new plan was commissioned (engineer François-Laurent Lamandé), though only completed in 1830 due to the Revolution. In 1847, a railway was built from Paris to Rouen and to Le Havre, further strengthening the role of the city. In 1852, the old fortifications were demolished and the city area was multiplied by nine. The population reached 60,000. Important companies for transatlantic traffic were established here, encouraging industrial development. At the beginning of the First World War, the population of the metropolitan area was 190,000.
At the start of the Second World War, the harbour of Le Havre was used by the British army for servicing its troops. The town was bombarded by the Germans in May 1940, and the British left it. After the peace treaty, it was occupied by the Germans, who were preparing an attack to Britain. Therefore, the harbour was bombed by the British and the shipyards were destroyed. In the following years until September 1944, the city was continuously under air attack by the Allied Forces, and finally the central area was entirely destroyed.
The idea to rebuilt Le Havre was perceived during the war destruction. In summer 1944, with a group architect colleagues Auguste Perret (1874-1954), then 70 years old, took the lead in the project of reconstruction of the town. Perret had studied in the school of Beaux-Arts, though he never graduated as this would not have allowed him to act as a contractor entering his family enterprise. He was trained in the spirit of classicism and had the inheritance of the 19th-century technical developments. He obtained solid experience in the development of the techniques of reinforced concrete. Some of his early architectural designs, such as the flats in the Rue Franklin in Paris (1903) and the Notre-Dame of Le Raincy (1923) have been recognized as masterpieces of the early modernism.
Taking into account the soil conditions and high water table, it was proposed to construct the entire city on a reinforced concrete platform about 3.50m above the ground level. At the time, this was a revolutionary initiative, and would have facilitated the building of infrastructures. Due to the limits of cement and iron in the post-war period, it was not authorised however. The general master plan was however carried out. The project was based on the basic grid module of 6.24m square. The lots were planned in a 100m grid, though some of these were united to make larger lots. The construction lasted until 1964, when the church of Saint-Joseph was consecrated.
Source: Advisory Body Evaluation