Le Havre, World Heritage Site

The promenade along the beach, where to relax and practice sport.

Comparative analysis

In order to obtain recognition for its unique heritage, the city of Le Havre was the object of a comparative analysis. Compared to other reconstructed cities of the same period or with the same materials, the city of Le Havre proved to be one of a kind.

 

A modern reconstruction project

The comparative analysis included in the application file confronts Le Havre to several other reconstructed cities like Warsaw, listed as world Heritage in 1980 and which is another example of the will to recreate a destroyed heritage site. In 2005, the World Heritage List did not show any site reconstructed as a modern creation, and not re-creation of an identical copy of a destroyed site.

Le Havre could also be compared to other post-war European reconstructed sites, among which Kassel, Freudenstadt or Kiel, but the maritime city is different because of its peculiar qualities. In Russia, the town planning of the same period (Stalingrad, Novgorod Velikyi, Minsk or Kiev) was based on the “neo-classicism” typical of the Stalin era, based on the principle of stylistic unity and an architecture respecting classical orders.

Strong State intervention

Docomomo, (workgroup for the DOcumentation and COnservation of MOdern MOvement Buildings) considers Le Havre as the most important example of State intervention in the reconstruction of urban zones in France. For example, Le Havre is entirely different from plans made by Le Corbusier for Saint-Dié, another city completely destroyed during WWII. Projects like Brasilia (which made the World Heritage List in 1987) and Chandigarh are new cities, and not post-war reconstructions.

Urban coherence and exceptional quality of architecture

None of the other reconstructed sites which could pretend to a Listing, whether Caen, Dunkirk, Royan or Maubeuge in France, Coventry in England, Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Düren in Germany holds as many new urban features, or coherence of urban fabric, or exceptional quality of architecture as does Le Havre. Certain sites like Rotterdam were deeply transformed over the past decades, and therefore no longer display the expected authenticity and integrity. Comparing the reconstructed city centre of Le Havre to other twentieth century urban and architectural projects already listed as World Heritage, one must admit the reasons in favour of Le Havre’s application strongly differ from the ones that supported the listing of modern sites, whether Brasilia or the Bauhaus. Listing Brasilia in 1987 introduced a cultural site created after 1945. But the historical situation of Le Havre does not compare with that of a capital created ex nihilo, that implies no memory of previous urban networks, or of the human trauma war causes.

Modernity and urban memory      

The reconstruction of Le Havre tries to reconcile modern urban planning and the historic urban networks of the town. The production of new urban fabric bears reference to the virtual territory underlying each new district as it grew, over the four centuries which preceded the destruction of the city centre in 1944. The exceptional universal value of the reconstruction of Le Havre makes reference to a totally different historic dimension, which imply, as we have seen, other architectural theories, but also urban memory and the tragedy of war. The Listing of the Bauhaus in 1996 confirmed the emblematic character of sites like Weimar and Dessau as regards the Modern Movement.

Structural Classicism and concrete

The Structural Classicism developed by Auguste Perret and his team, theory and language which find their origin in neo-gothic and neoclassical rationalist movements of the nineteenth century, represents an original path for modernity, distant from various trends of international functionalism.

What adds interest to the exceptional heritage in Le Havre, is the definition made by Auguste Perret of a specific order of reinforced concrete, and the capacity this order shows of being declined in many variations over a vast urban perimeter. Adding this site to the World Heritage List contributes to a radical change of attitude towards a most decried part of modern heritage, the one that was produced in Europe in the second half of last century. Listing a piece of urban fabric issued from the epic time of the Reconstruction  compares favorably with all attempts made by cultural institutions and associations to safeguard twentieth century heritage  on an international scale.