Le Havre has become a sort of architectural laboratory…and it’s not over yet !
There is often a delay between a creation and its appropriation by the general public. Long-since criticised for its architecture and even ridiculed for its concrete jungle, Le Havre was awarded the ultimate accolade on 15th July 2005 : UNESCO World Heritage Site status !
Far beyond the entirely justified celebrations and sense of pride felt by the population, it was as if a lead weight had been suddenly lifted. This ocean gateway city would never be looked at in the same way again, with the rather unflattering nickname of ‘Stalingrad-on-Sea’ magically changing to ‘Le Havre, Manhattan-on-Sea’ thanks to an attention-grabbing headline in Ideat magazine: “Le Havre, Manhattan sur mer”.
The washed and hammered concrete, screen walls, colonnades and the famous 6.24 m modular frame moved out of the shadows and into the limelight, proudly showing off to the astonished general public who still remained somewhat incredulous. Le Havre joined Brasilia, hitherto the only other city with UNESCO status to have represented modern architecture. As the result of two exceptional and ingenious architects, namely Perret and Niemeyer, these two cities are symbols of 20th century urbanism.
Perret’s concrete is no ordinary or mundane concrete. Known as the “stone of the 20th century”, it catches the light in shades ranging from pinky-beige to bronze depending on the variation.
Around a hundred architects formed Perret’s workshop and helped to reconstruct Le Havre, including: Raymond Audigier, Georges Brochard, Charles Fabre, André Hermant, Guy Lagneau, Pierre-Edouard Lambert, Jacques Lamy, André le Donne, Jean le Soudier, Jacques Tournant, Otello Zavaroni.
The modernity of this architecture has continued with other tenors such as Oscar Niemeyer in the 1980s with the Volcan (national theatre) and the library which bears his name, Jean Nouvel for the “les bains des docks” in 2008, an extraordinary aquatic complex.
The refection of the port section of the Eure neighbourhood gave Reichen and Robert the opportunity to give new life to the former docks which date back to the middle of the 19th century; René Dottelonde to sign the new Chamber of Commerce building, which opens on to the Vauban dock; to Jean-Paul Viguier to build the Novotel hotel with its pure lines; as well as the new Ecole Nationale Supérieure Maritime shaped like the prow of a ship, and the Cité A Docks, made from containers, a student residence.