Le Havre, World Heritage Site

François Premier Temporary Housing Camp, aerial view.

Land regrouping

Apart from the impact of the structural module over architectural aspect and inside fittings, a new demographic distribution as well as a new definition of ownership arise from land regrouping. Architect Jacques Tournant was in charge of it, having convinced Perret as early as 1943 of his ability to deal with joint questions of urban planning and land regrouping.

The principle of land regrouping lies in correcting the density of the population so as to even out rates of housing occupation.

Historic districts, which used to be very densely populated, if not “overcrowded” (2 500 inhabitants per hectare) gave over part of their population to more recent housing areas (districts built in the nineteenth century, like Saint-Vincent and Saint-Michel) therefore reaching an average rate of 700 to 900 inhabitants per hectare.

Floor space instead of land       

In practice, land regrouping consists in offering square meters of floor surface in exchange for square meters of land surface, a job which requires an ability to “persuade and prove conciliatory” towards both inhabitants and architects. Only Jacques Tournant could succeed in this undertaking, helped by the creation of two cooperatives of war victims who oversaw building projects themselves, organizing groups to share their war damages and a joint building project they supervised, in agreement with the precepts of the Perret Studio.

This “ability to adapt” led to overall homogeneity while introducing architectural diversity (outside: variations of in-filling panels, of textures of concrete, of openings, and inside: fittings, variations of room lay-out and use of space). Once again, Jacques Tournant’s personality, always available and persuasive, will be a factor essential to the success of the whole project.

Re-implanting shops and housing

Land regrouping aims at recreating districts and the social organization complementary of re-implanting shops on their pre-war sites.

According to the principles Jacques Tournant promulgated:

“A few starting points, based on common sense, were set:

1°- except when some commercial centres are globally moved to a new area, shops must be recreated as close to their old location as possible, in such conditions as allowing business to be conducted successfully;

2°- Lodgings are easier to move than shops. The density of population considered acceptable and the orientation of the new buildings will determine their new lay-out;

3°- Right-angles generate money-saving. They allow better lay-outs for flats;

4°- Shops should be set on busy thoroughfares, lodgings are better away from them.”

War Damages

The “surface credit” granted a war victim is evaluated according to the value of the destroyed property (with reference to 1939 property prices), allowing the replacement of a destroyed building by a surface put to a similar use as before the war: accommodation, shops, public amenities…. With the added possibility of transferring or selling war damages.

The value of the property also suffers a loss according to age and the thickness of the walls: this allows a certain fairness over the valuation of buildings: thus an old building with load-bearing walls in the historic district of Saint François has the same worth as a more recent one with thinner walls, situated in the Saint-Joseph district (built in the nineteenth century).

However the way this affects demography is relative: in 1962, sociologist Jean Philippe Damais noticed disparities in occupation rates of blocks of flats: the ISAI housed an average of three persons to one flat, instead of the four initially planned. In blocks N19, N20 (Perrey District) and V70 (close to Saint-Joseph’s church) he found a higher occupation rate of four and a half people per flat.

The method the MRU opted for dealt with both legal and building sides of things at the same time. First the Perret Studio would study the overall plan, on a 1/250th scale, then the war victims cooperative would announce the programme for a block (including the distribution of flats and the number of shops), the war victim had his choice (the one who used to own a property close by has priority, then city centre property owners),the estimate is given by the architect and this allows owners to get 25% of the total cost, the actual cost being announced on completion of the project. This theoretical time line may be somewhat upset: one owner will get war damages before knowing what accommodation he will get, another will wait for them, keeping an eye on the project all the while.

War victim cooperatives

The technique of disposing of surfaces by dividing up an overall master plan of the city is a complex one, so much so that it upsets the principle of ownership. Indeed, the aim of land regrouping is to offer floor surface instead of land surface.

Conciliation and persuasion work between inhabitants and architects is a necessary part of it: this initiative will be made possible by the creation of two war victim cooperatives. They can oversee the building project directly by pooling together war damages and choosing designs, in agreement with the precepts of the Perret Studio.

This “flexibility” allows great landscaping coherence to the city, while diversity is introduced to the architecture (on the outside by varying in-fillings, textures of concrete, openings and on the inside by varying room lay-out and use of space).

This process, meant to help re-house 40 000 inhabitants over 100 blocks, goes on over a period of twenty years and, despite proving efficient, will not avoid, from a 1950 turning point, the final departure of people or their being allocated accommodation outside the reconstructed city centre.