Le Havre, World Heritage Site

Municipal Library: Wooden Model of the City.

The ideal city of 1946

The final plan is adopted in March 1946: the Perret Studio suggests a town structured on three different scales: the general urban scale, that of the blocks of flats and last, that of the standard arrangement inside flats. The general plan follows modern precepts and the systematic use of reinforced concrete, while keeping to the pre-war lay-out of the town.

Historic continuity      

Thus the Perret Studio keeps the large avenues of the pre-war city, opening out on to the sea (Avenue Foch, Boulevard François 1er) and the port (Rue de Paris). Perspectives are added with monumental groups of buildings (Porte Océane, Southern Sea Front, ISAI), punctuated with towers, acting as urban markers or focal points. The major pre-war buildings are re-positionned on the modern grid (Town Hall, Stock Exchange, churches, schools, covered market…): Perret therefore tries to recreate a commercial city centre situated close to the port, meaning to continue its activities as of old within a modern architectural framework.

A monumental triangle

The main thoroughfares of the old city form a triangle, inside which is set an orthogonal grid made up of open blocks 100 metres wide. Two grids follow the position of the historic docks (Commerce and Roy), recreating, for the northern part, a lay-out identical to the nineteenth century one; whereas, to the west, the grid follows the line of boulevard François 1er (thus reflecting the differing points of view of the City Council and the Perret Studio). Each angle of this triangle is punctuated by a major building or monumental group of buildings including a tower.

Classical town

The classical town of Auguste Perret follows a set of graded principles which structure spaces and interact with one another: recreating streets, squares, monuments and housing blocks. For the main shopping street, he uses the architectural idea of the portico, an open covered gallery running in front of the shops which are set further back, following the model set in the First Empire (Rue de Rivoli). The same architectural typology is used: shops at ground level with a mezzanine for stocks adorned with regularly spaced columns, a further three storeys above with a full-length balcony underlining the first floor.

Deep Unity

The columns in the Rue de Paris stand every 6, 24 metres in accordance with the structural module chosen as early as 1946. Jacques Tournant explains:

“The construction was not left to chance, the chosen module –or grid – of 6, 24 metres, which can be found all over the modern part of the town, creates a deep unity and allows its joining up smoothly with the remaining part. From the orthogonal disposition which does away with slanting surfaces, and its dimensions, this grid allows space for two rooms which, if repeated on both sides, creates square units. The grid agrees, at the highest level, with Economy in its greater understanding, but is also – as we can regularly verify – a real money-saving device.”

An invisible pattern

Multiplying the module by two defines the thickness of the building

. increasing floor surfaces

. hence diminishing the surface of facades

. generating smaller costs

Furthermore, sub-multiples of the module create a smaller one of 52 cm which defines the width of windows (twice 52 cm) or the size of piers* for in-filling slabs: elements of structure and building thus giving the construction architectural rhythm.

This module becomes, according to Jacques Tournant, a “general non-rigid pattern containing variety in in-fillings, balconies and porticos”. This invisible pattern belongs to an overall plan included constructed volumes whose placing, orientation and height mean to grant “the right to calm, sunlight, air and space” to lodgers. The city buildings follow “a cadence, part of a musical harmony”. (Auguste Perret)

*Pier: Space comprised between two doors, two windows; panel, coating (woodwork, mirror, ornamental painting etc…) occupying this space.