Le Havre, World Heritage Site

Techniques and Architecture magazine, 1946, Monod "portico" building system.

Experimenting on site

On the vast building site that was the reconstruction of Le Havre, the MRU (Ministry for the Reconstruction and Urbanism, founded 1944) led a number of major technical experiments: the post/beam/slab system, prefabrication and standardization…..

The new lay-out of the town adjusted to the traditional conception of a city: a monumental square, grouped blocks formed of low buildings (and hiding towers only visible at a distance), streets and avenues, rhythms….

The spirit of progress

Such a continuity is far from being involuntary or naïve, harmony and historic unity are considered here as essential values even though they carry the “spirit of Progress”: blocks are measured out using the most modern tools such as modelling, and are structured on an open block pattern (a square of three low buildings and one tower, with an entrance onto the courtyard in the middle).

Prefabrication

Standardization and mass production also help towards improving the quality of buildings, while their realization, aesthetically and materially speaking, aims at durability and timelessness.

Using prefabrication techniques, actual building takes less time (and the pace of re-lodging people increases), and this at a lesser cost. The first sites made use of traditional prefabrication methods, concrete being poured in formworks on site. In such cases, prefabrication was restricted to in-filling panels, door frames and added fittings (kitchen blocks for example).

A variety of experiments

Other experiments, at a later date, anticipate construction methods which will later be used on both national and international level (the Camus process). In 1952-1953, while building the Porte Océane, the “Portique” process, used on the northern half, uses prefabricated frame elements: posts, beams, staircases and factory-made in-filling panels, all of these then put together on site.

Between 1950 and 1954, the Thireau-Morel Factory test out prefabricated concrete in-filling panels used on various sites: the minimal lodgings, detached houses, the large housing scheme at the Champs-Barrets (architect Loisel) and some of the city centre blocks (south-west of Rue de Paris).

The Camus Process

The most innovative method, and to become a very popular one, was tried out as early as 1949-1950, in the Perrey district.

The Camus Process consists in very elaborate prefabricated elements including walls, doors and windows, water pipes, electrical wiring, gas pipes… allowing an 80% saving on manpower, albeit an unskilled one.

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