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Patrimoine mondial

Le Havre on the World Heritage list

In July 2005, UNESCO listed Le Havre's city, rebuilt by Auguste Perret, as a World Heritage site. Perret was a major 20th century architect, a "concrete poet" and an innovator. Atelier Perret pulled off the feat of taking classic tradition and combining it with modernity to reinvent a unique 133ha centre whose architecture is clear, airy, harmonious and resolutely innovative.

Le Havre's centre is the first 20th century European urban settlement to be on the World Heritage list.

"Les créations de l'homme sont filles de l'histoire qui les entoure." (Man's creations are the product of the history which surrounds them) 
Auguste Perret

Auguste Perret, the concrete poet

Auguste Perret, the concrete poet
Le Havre was severely bombed at the end of the Second World War and was one of the worst affected cities in Europe: 5000 were killed and 80,000 were left homeless out of 160,000 inhabitants; 150 hectares of the historic centre were destroyed.

As well as having an important role in export, the maritime and port city had strong ties to transatlantic transport: its reconstruction became a national priority as it showed the world that France was rising from the flames. The French post-war government decided to combine all the skills required to make Le Have an exemplary city.

Auguste Perret's pupils and former students united to form a Le Havre reconstruction workshop. They designed a new city intended to re-house the city centre's 40,000 people. This involved building approximately 10,000 residences in 150 orthogonal blocks in two plots along the former docks. Within the twin grid, Rue de Paris, Avenue Foch and Boulevard François 1er formed a monumental triangle to reflect the position and role they occupied before the war. Iconic buildings were also reintroduced: the town hall, stock exchanges, arcades, churches etc. Low-rise and high-rise buildings in blocks harked back to the traditional courtyards, streets, squares and public gardens. These open residential blocks reflected the modern idea of our "right to peace, air, sun and space."

Approximately 100 architects worked on the project between 1945 and 1964; they created a landscape in keeping with the setting in which the buildings reflect the many variations in a single architectural language.

World Heritage List

Modern architecture on the whole and particularly Auguste Perret's work may not have been given the respect they deserved prior to Le Havre's city centre being made a UNESCO's World Heritage site in 2005, but that's just one chapter of the story.

It may be a first in Europe for post-Second World War heritage (the only other example of a post-World War II World Heritage site being Brasilia) but it represents the end of an extremely long process of heritage preservation which began when reconstruction work in the city ended. The heritage was seen through new eyes at Institut Français de l'Architecture's (French Institute of Architecture) behest and the work of researchers and historians. The city of Le Havre devoted itself to the conservation and restoration of the reconstructed built environment by setting up a Zone for the Protection of Architectural, Urban and Landscape Heritage (ZPPAUP) and following up with a plan to promote the heritage by being awarded the title of a City of Art and History (Ville d'Art et d'Histoire). This initial transformation and the quality of the application for candidacy resulted in the site being added to the World Heritage list in July 2005.

Heritage promotion: City of Art and History

In 2011, Le Havre joined the national network of Villes et Pays d'Art et d'Histoire (French towns and areas of art and history) by setting up a group of heritage-related initiatives in all areas: architecture, history, society and humanitarian. The accreditation was awarded for 1950's architecture which thus highlighted the aim to promote the architecture, now part of the heritage, to the locals and especially to young people. Le Havre combined two areas whose skills complemented each other and improved the quality of the services available to the public: tourism and heritage events.

How people see Le Havre has significantly changed since the rebuilt centre was added to the World Heritage list. Also, the scope of initiatives has broadened to include other ideas in the same vein: exhibitions, events, biannual modern art exhibitions, re-organisation of land and large-scale urban projects. These activities are living proof of how far Le Havre has come.