Le Havre, World Heritage Site

Municipal Library: Wooden Model of the City.

Urban grid and monumental triangle

Setting up a grid containing large blocks, the general plan designed by Auguste Perret centers on a monumental triangle keeping to the old lay out of Le Havre and granting it remarkable readability.

The three main thoroughfares (Boulevard François 1er, Avenue Foch and Rue de Paris) link up three sites showing the identity of the city: the city centre, the sea and the port. These streets are remarkable for their width and the regularity of the construction along their lines. The Rue de Paris and Avenue Foch, north/south and east/west axis, are references to the Cardo and Decumanus of Roman towns. Therefore these three thoroughfares form what is called the “monumental triangle” of the urban composition, linking three major architectural ensembles: Town Hall Square, Porte Océane and Southern Sea Front.

They are punctuated by landmarks which are conspicuous within the urban landscape. Two constructions acting like “lighthouses” dominate the town, symbolically showing the importance of two  powers, a political one for the tower of the Town Hall (72 metres’ high), and a religious one for Saint Joseph Church (107 metres’ high).

If the monumental triangle is the basis of the urban composition of the new city centre, it follows the lines of three roadways which existed before the war. Within this perimeter, two checkered grids are laid out: the first one follows the line of the Bassin du Commerce, the second one that of the Bassin du Roy and Boulevard François 1er. Secondary streets define square blocks of 100 m x 100m, equivalent to the width of the Bassin du Commerce.

C’est là une des originalités de la reconstruction du Havre qui, très peu de temps avant la conception des grands ensembles des années 1960, reste dans une configuration d’îlots structurés où la différenciation espace public/espace privé est claire, tout en utilisant des principes de plan masse modernes.

A third level of road network cuts up blocks according to various multiples of the structural module. Within these blocks, the general plan for constructions is defined along rules belonging to the modern movement such as: orientation to ensure maximum sunlight and protect against prevailing winds, organizing blocks around a collective inner courtyard considered as extra living space and no longer an under exploited area.

This is part of the originality of the reconstruction of Le Havre which, very shortly before the creation of large housing schemes in the 1960s, keeps to a lay-out of structured blocks where the difference between public and private space is made clear, while using the modern system of overall master plans.

“Economy, and the shape of the ground, flat as the sea, led us to choose the right angle as the rule for the plan. We will therefore build an orthogonal city- we will ward off any ensuing monotony by varying the width of streets, the height of buildings, by creating recesses, open planted courtyards, squares large and small; we will avoid the unending lines of trees, but will want the branch of a tree, the mirror or the spray  of a fountain  to be seen from any angle”. Auguste Perret