The reconstructed city centre includes a lot of public spaces of superior quality. They used to exist before the war and, whether added or reinvented, they remain symbols of the history of the maritime city and an added bonus to the quality of living here. Squares and green spaces, recreated around monuments which survived the war, have become an integral part of the architecture of the reconstruction.
Général de Gaulle Square
Général de Gaulle Square (previously Gambetta Square) extends, to the west, the long rectangle of Commerce Dock, continuing beyond rue de Paris which cuts across it. On the quayside, its back towards the dock, stands (“as would a paper-weight”, as Perret used to ironically remark) the old Monument to Victory designed in 1924 by Pierre-Marie Poisson. The only relic to remain intact after the 1944 bombings, this granite sculpted group saw its dressed stone base enlarged so the names of the 1939-1945 war victims could be added.
To the north, this square meets the small Auguste Perret Square, site of a “missing block” of the Rue de Paris. The blocks around Général de Gaulle Square were built under the leading hand of André Le Donné by a group of about ten architects (Charles Fabre, Jean Le Soudier, André Lenoble, Acker, Lerambert, Henri Daigue, Steinhausser, Otello Zavaroni). Apart from housing (filling up the buildings from the first level up), they contain shops, hotels and restaurants. Général de Gaulle Square splits the rue de Paris into two uneven sections, and, from the way it was designed, creates a break in the urban space. Meant, from the start, to be the site for the Theatre of Le Havre, it is today marked by the Volcano/ Maison de la Culture designed by Oscar Niemeyer. Its architecture, situated on a lower level from the street, thus creates a paradoxical space, both looking on itself and out towards the rest of the city. Thanks to its free shape, it marks the area close to Commerce Dock and also belongs to and enriches the complex system of meanings found in Le Havre. But its sculptural volume, access ramps and surrounding spaces are a world in themselves that stands in the way of urban activity. We reach here a new area of pioneering experimenting concerning architectural heritage, which could benefit other urban schemes typical of the second half of the Twentieth Century.
Erected during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Notre-Dame Church, damaged during the 1944 bombings, started being restored in 1947. The destruction of the buildings around it led the Perret Studio to designing a special setting in the form of a square. This intention, made obvious from the first drawings of 1945, was achieved in the final project. Set in the place where the two large urban grids, along which the reconstruction project is organized, join one another, the church is at the centre of a polygon, aligned to the west with the Rue de Paris, and, to the east, with the back of the blocks lining the Southern Sea Front and the King’s Dock. There is a break in the main shopping street to provide the western façade of the church and its powerful tower with an esplanade. In fact, Rue de Paris runs around the sides and back of the church, widening around it, giving it a place on that particular street.
The buildings around the church copy the lay-out of the Rue de Paris ones (ground-floor shops with mezzanine and three levels of housing above a full-length running balcony). They offer the same protecting arcade over the pavements. The square section columns and aesthetic beauty of the façades (relying on the horizontal marking of floors and the systematic repetition of French windows and in-filling panels) confirm the theme of street enlargement. Architects Pierre-Edouard Lambert, Fernand Denis, Pierre-André Jouan, Pierre Groené, Monmon, Leroy, A. Rémy, Rey, collaborated in building these blocks.
The main restoration work on Notre-Dame church finished in 1974, when it became the cathedral of the new diocese of Le Havre.
Old Market Square (Place du Vieux Marché)
The old Courthouse, erected in 1760 by the engineer Dubois, which became the Natural History Museum in 1876, was partly destroyed during World War II. Only the central part of the building was restored. Because of its particular orientation (following pre-war street alignment, the Museum sits outside the main urban grid of the reconstruction (which follows, as previously explained, the lines of Commerce Dock). In order to integrate, as harmoniously as possible, this building into the reconstructed city centre, the Perret team designed an L shaped, largely open block and a tree planted square within its limits. The L shaped building, to the west, ensures the line of buildings on Rue de Paris remains continuous, at the same time allowing open communication between the square and the street through an open gallery. This closes, to the south, the space created around Notre-Dame. The Museum stands guard over its square, thus defining a harmonious public space. The urban fabric offers a succession of squares and streets, linking up in subtle diversity despite the evidently simple way this was arrived at.
The Covered Market Square: les Halles Centrales
Placed between the Niemeyer Centre and the Raoul Dufy Secondary School, the Covered Market Square sits on its pre-war site. Its specificity originates from its use as a market; built as a large piece of modern equipment, it requires to mix easily with the everyday banality of the shops and housing situated around it. The reinforced concrete covered market, covered by two intersecting vaults, replaces the one with metallic frame dating from the nineteenth century (1884), destroyed in the bombings of 1944. The new building was designed and built by Charles Fabre and Jean Le Soudier. From its central position and using rows of trees on each side, it was easy to differentiate the different parts of the square. The recent extension to the east led to narrowing the commercial Rue Bernardin de Saint-Pierre street, now seen as a continuation of the pedestrian prescinct.
Saint Roch’s Garden
Saint Roch’s Garden, situated on the site of the English Garden created in 1868, keeps to the general outlook this ancient public park used to have, and to which the people of Le Havre were very much attached. After the tragic 1944 bombings which turned it into a waste ground, it was used as a temporary cemetery. At the junction with Avenue Foch, its corners are marked by two very specific blocks of housing. To the west and east it is lined by the Othon Friesz and Raoul Dufy streets, and on its northern side by the Georges Braque street. The concrete fence surrounding it is identical to the one around the Town Hall Gardens and was drawn by Auguste Perret; it separates this park planted with tall trees from the avenue. The buildings lining the Othon Friesz and Raoul Dufy streets hold the same residential character as the ones along Avenue Foch. Those situated on rue Georges Braque make up the front row of the Saint Vincent district. Saint Roch’s Garden opens out toward the north the promenade on Avenue Foch and stands as a transition between the reconstructed city centre and the old districts.