Le Havre, World Heritage Site

The Porte Océane, seen from the Town Hall Gardens.

The Porte Océane

The monumental scheme designed by the Reconstruction Studio at le Havre was called the Porte Océane (Ocean Door), in reference to the title of a book “La Porte Océane” by Edouard Herriot (French politician), published in 1932. It is also the symbol of the transition from the town to the sea.

It sits at one end of the Avenue Foch (which used to be an ill assorted place before the destruction), and is the junction point between the western sea front and the Boulevard François 1er. The building site was made of two parts, north and south, handled for the one by Jacques Poirrier and for the other by André Hermant, both architects belonging to the Perret Studio. In March 1954, the southern tower was nearing completion while the northern one was just coming out of the ground because of important foundation problems due to the quality of the marshy ground.

A symbol facing the sea

The urban planning of the reconstruction of Le Havre, as drawn by the Perret Studio, fits into the old triangle of the destroyed city centre . Monumental constructions give emphasis to all three angles of the triangle: the Porte-Océane to the west, Town Hall Square to the north, and the Southern Sea Front to the south. The Porte Océane forms a highly symbolic scheme with its two towers, they are true public monuments, representing as they do the door to the city. Their high volumes were designed both to finish and frame the main thoroughfare of Le Havre (Boulevard de Strasbourg, Town Hall Square and Avenue Foch). The cohesion of the whole ensemble at the Porte Océane was essential in order to “echo” that of Town Hall Square. Parallel to the high 13 storey boundary buildings, two smaller 6 storey blocks close the esplanade to the west. These horizontal blocks, meant to screen away the winds, are linked to the towers by perpendicular buildings of the same height. The whole scheme creates a square space opening onto a wide esplanade cut across in the middle by the Avenue Foch, which opens out to the beach, the pier, the marina and yachting clubs.

Construction

The two sections, north and south, look identical. On this site, the structural module of 6,24m, chosen to guarantee optimal standardization, was very slightly shortened. Then half, one third and quarter of the module were used. The construction has an exposed reinforced concrete structure where support points occur every 6,21 m. The height for one storey is 3,10m floor to floor. On the inner side the structure posts arise in a straight line and, on the outside their connection points are visible. The posts project from the flat façade, particularly so on the lower storeys of the high rise buildings.

On all the buildings, the in-fills are made of two types of monolithic piers, a wide one and a narrow one, based on a structural module of 0, 69 cm, that is one ninth of the full module. Combining these piers allowed variety to the position of windows. The façades are exposed to onshore winds, therefore should not give purchase to rain water or dust: to achieve this the surface was mechanically sanded down and not bush-hammered.

The buildings on the sea front, 21 metres high, are crowned with a recessed attic, within an arc of circle volume of a 10m radius. Ledges mark the second and fifth floors. The first five floors offer flats of one to six rooms, the sixth recessed floor offers single rooms. They are linked to the tower of block V74 by a one storey construction housing garages and single rooms. To the north, the Boulevard François 1er cuts the composition diagonally, therefore the tower of block S25 is not directly linked to the low, junction buildings. The towers, 47, 50 m high but only 12m wide, are made up of two 13 storey blocks.

The buildings were designed according to the views and sunlight they would offer. The 256 flats are laid out according to 16 different types taking into account the south-west orientation of the buildings. For example, the south-west orientation of the seafront buildings and of the towers led to place lounges or “rooms for living”, kitchens and staircases facing the sea and bedrooms towards the east.

Having a restaurant on the last, crowning floor of one of the towers was considered but the fire brigade’s negative ruling led to giving the idea up in October 1951.

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