Le Havre, World Heritage Site

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The overall plan

The result of collective work and numerous creative suggestions, the overall plan of the reconstructed city will be adopted in January 1946. Traced along the lines of a previous era, Perret’s vision of a city with large avenues and perspectives, making room for cars, air and light gives it vital impulse.

The origins of the plan

During the summer of 1945, the Perret team sets out to work, following a collective process in order to decide on a general plan for the city.

A sort of internal competition is organized by team members to determine a general direction. As attested by archive documents kept both in Paris and Le Havre, the team showed a great inventiveness.

Some sketches consider the urban territory like a park where the building, following Le Corbusier’s conception, shows projections instead of an aligned façade (André Hermant), while others try to recapture the memory of the destroyed city (André Guilbert).

Others still (André Le Donné, Pierre-Edouard Lambert) find inspiration in urban design elements used by Perret himself in his great projects of the 1930’s (avenues, large grid, widely placed blocks….).

During the City Council meeting of 26th September 1945, Auguste Perret will attempt to impose the idea of reconstructing the city on a platform raised 3, 50 metres off the ground.

City on a platform: a discarded utopia

Auguste Perret had a very precise idea of the new city centre he wanted to create for Le Havre. More than a masterpiece he wanted the city to be functional, and the functions to be included in the construction. Life in the city should be practical, functional, pedestrian and raised on a platform.

This innovative solution, which avoids closeness to groundwater, offered, according to Auguste Perret, perfect operating conditions. Not only did it allow to install easily the urban pipeline network (and give easy access for repairs), but also to place, under the platform, the car traffic, warehouses and carparks, leaving the ground free to pedestrians.

It showed, on the part of the Perret team, prospective vision, for cars were not then, a popular means of transport. Because of overall shortage of concrete and steel, which led the Ministry to impose quotas for each town, this solution will not be put into practice. It seemed a luxurious one, within the context of the reconstruction, as it required an enormous amount of concrete.

This idea will find considerable interest among the art critics. Waldemar George (influential art critic between the two world wars) will support it in an article published on 22nd October 1945 in La Voix de Paris under the title:” Le Havre will be rebuilt on a platform by Auguste Perret”:

“All cities in the future will be built on a concrete platform, it will no longer be necessary to rip streets open and divert the traffic when effecting repairs. Such is the plan for the Reconstruction of Le Havre. Conceived by a great constructor, it will be accomplished, it will show the world what France and French engineering can achieve, if a sufficient amount of concrete can be given to the foremost architect of our times, and if the City Council of Le Havre decides to surrender”.

Auguste Perret made a new attempt during the meeting of the city council of 30th November 1945 but did not win the case.

The final plan: affirmation of the modern city

Summing up all the suggestions led to deciding on the main principles of the final plan: setting a grid of large blocks, the monumentality of Town Hall Square, the triumphal overture to the west, towards the sea through the future Porte Océane, conserving the rue de Paris as an animated commercial area, presenting an outline of the Southern Sea Front.

Using a summary of these principles, Auguste Perret will decide on a general plan which he will present to the City council on 26th September 1945 (together with the alternative of the raised platform city).

This plan contains a first quadrangular grid, aligned on the sides ofCommerce Dock, spread over the whole city centre, forming a network of meshes of 100m by 100m. Some added together to form large rectangular blocks. A second grid (at a 45 degree angle) covers the Notre-Dame district on a parallel to the Bassin du Roy, King’s Dock (while the island of Saint-François stands outside the grid). However, this is only an early version. The two grids did not meet harmoniously, creating unused areas around Notre-Dame church.

Town Hall Square, Avenue Foch and Porte Océane keep the places given in the first synthetic study. However, the template for Rue de Paris becomes smaller and the street looks like an ordinary one. The Boulevard François 1er is restored, but, crossing the grid diagonally, it leads to buildings set in saw-tooth fashion on both sides of it. The southern Sea Front becomes clearer through a different design.

The rue de Paris is confirmed as a major area for commerce, while the buildings on Avenue Foch, more prestigious still, are drawn with monumental entrance halls.

Generally speaking the Perret plan keeps to the great historic lay out of the city. The final plan will include changes in order to satisfy the requests of the City Council, particularly concerning the width of Rue de Paris and the positioning of the blocks in the Perrey district, along the Boulevard François 1er.

Slideshow

Le plan général, un des premiers plans de la ville en janvier 1946
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Jacques Tournant et la maquette de l'Hôtel de Ville, 1950