24 June 2022, 12:12
The New Life of French Le Havre

We continue to study the experience of restoring different cities because each of them is unique. Every time you can learn something interesting from the past to rebuild Ukrainian cities. Le Havre is another story of reconstruction, told by Dutch architecture historian Pauline K.M. van Roosmalen. 

Le Havre is a port city in northern France. The Nazi troops quickly captured it and planned to use it as a starting point for further British occupation. In the course of the WWII, the city was bombed from the air, 75% of the port and 150 hectares of the city were destroyed. In fact, only two objects survived: the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Monument of Death honoring the people who died during the WWI. Before the war, more than 160,000 inhabitants lived in Le Havre: 5,000 of them died, 75,000-85,000 were injured. 90,000 people were left without housing.

Despite the fact that 80% of the city was destroyed, it was decided to rebuild it because Le Havre was an important port not only for France, but for all Europe. For example, coffee used to be imported through it.

A special Ministry of Reconstruction and Urban Development was created for post-war reconstruction in France. An architect or planner was assigned to each municipality, and funding was allocated for reconstruction. However, there special conditions: if the city refused the architect who was assigned to it, it did not receive money for restoration either. And cities, as a rule, lacked their own resources for reconstruction. 

The Le Havre Redesign Commission assigned architect Auguste Perret to develop the plan. He made a name for himself in the early 20s of the 20th century as an architect-innovator. Perret believed in a new style in which the French architecture of classicism of the 17th-18th centuries was reinterpreted through the use of iron and concrete. 

Perret was appointed in 1945, but another architect, Felix Bruno, was already working on reconstruction of the city in 1941. Their plans differed significantly. Bruno didn't want anything new; he was eager to recreate what was before. The different views of these people caused many problems between the teams working to rebuild the city. More than that, Felix Bruno had more support from the citizens. However, Le Havre could not refuse Perret, as it would mean losing money.

Eventually, Perret changed his plan; however, still not the way Bruno saw the restoration the city, but it was still not an extreme modernist option. 

The project provided for strict zoning of the city. Offices were to be located in the center and housing on the outskirts. The population was surveyed about road junctions, the need for stores and other infrastructure components of Le Havre. Something from the past that the citizens especially loved was improved and preserved.

Rectangular blocks of buildings were also erected in the city. These quite harsh neighborhoods are still there. They are impressive in their planning and appearance, but alarming in their lack of tranquility. The reconstruction lasted until 1963, when the last building was restored. Le Havre was included in the UNESCO World Heritage as an example of post-war modern architecture. However, it does not mean that the city has been unchanged since the 60s. People make their adjustments and make it more pleasant for life. For example, more and more cozy terraces and summer recreation areas are being built on the streets of the city.

Listen more about the reconstruction of Le Havre on YouTube.






Other news