Living in Le Havre just after the war, for those who did it, and apart from being a time of hardship and everyday difficulties, meant living next to an unending building site and with the constant rhythmic noise of foundation posts being beaten into the ground, providing foundations for the “maisons”, houses also then called “buildings”.
The urban landscape shows large straight roads cutting across large mounds of bricks where construction machines are moving.
An immense building site
For more than ten years, the war victims of Le Havre only see their town as an immense building site, while they worry about getting the bare minimum to survive: moving into temporary sheds, acquiring emergency furniture, given or sold for a symbolic low sum, getting or procuring small utility equipment (now antiques so hard to find).
During the summer of 1949, even before the first person moves into a new flat, the population of Le Havre can visit a show-flat, near Town Hall Square. “We would need 10 000 of those” says a homeless man in the local press, thereby alluding to the great precariousness most of them are undergoing, used as they are to temporary housing, sometimes obliged to exile themselves.
“Practically nothing was left of the old districts of the city, around the port, which were the most populated. Only saving Notre-Dame could be considered. There were a hundred and fifty hectares where to build a new city! Until then, no urban planner could have imagined an architectural project of such scope”.
Published in 1963, this remark of Jacques Tournant’s is a reference to the enormous building site that was Le Havre, the direct result of multiple bombings which took place regularly, as early as 1940 until the final destructions of 5th and 6th September 1944.
Accommodation for the war victims
Settling in the wooden sheds is a new step for people who fled their lodgings for fear of bombings and wish for a better everyday life: first exiles, then refugees, these people are now considered “homeless” as far as the authorities in charge of organizing the reconstruction are concerned.
From 1947 on, town councils requisition land - outside city centres so as not to impede reconstruction projects – in order to provide many homeless with a roof over their heads.
Prefabricated sheds of French design – tested after WWI – of American or even Austrian make are then set up to form temporary housing schemes. These, installed side by side with the rubble of the old city, get quickly organized.