Le Havre : Transformation of the Reconstructed City

Le Havre is a large European port located in Normandy at the mouth of the Seine.  The city of Le Havre was constructed at the entrance to the port. After suffering heavy bombardment during the Second World War, the city was largely rebuilt by Auguste Perret.  This exemplary reconstruction process and the articulation of the city’s various spatial typologies has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Notable sites include the André Malraux Museum constructed with Jean Prouvé, and Le Volcan, a theater designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

Today the city’s collection of public spaces demands questioning; with their vast dimensions, they appear underutilized by and ill-suited for the inhabitants of Le Havre.  They are deeply disused and often deserted.  The ever-present automobile is the primary occupant of yards and streets.

Recently, several large transformational projects have taken place and are currently ongoing, including public beaches, avenues welcoming a tramway, the Plaza Hôtel de Ville, the Charles de Gaulle Plaza, and the Southampton Quay (GSD Option Studio, Spring 2016).  Studies were conducted to determine a strategy for the transformation of these spaces, imagining a cohesive, all-encompassing vision for the city, however they remain as yet barely implemented.  The aim of this studio, crafted to mimic the reality of the situation, is to embrace this collection of public spaces as a whole, to understand their essence and imagine their evolution.

The structural unit of the rebuilt city allows for a coherent and unique vision of the range of situations existing in its outdoor spaces.  Likewise, each student will devise both a general vision for the public spaces of the reconstructed city of Le Havre, as well as the specific development of a number of projects and prototypes of various typologies.

Among these spaces is the Southampton Quay, formerly the prestigious departure point of the New York-bound “Le France”, the coastal facade of the city, and the entrance to the industrial port.  The objective is to transform the quay into a public space linking city and port, while at the same time maintaining a relationship with the larger vision of the collection of public spaces of the reconstructed city.

The specifics of the studio reside in the juxtaposition between two points of view:  that of landscape architect Michel Desvigne, and that of architect Inessa Hansch.  By crossing skills, students will have the opportunity to develop a mastery over spatial composition, while imagining how certain buildings and their composition can guide and animate the space.  In Le Havre, the mastery of scales is crucial.  The eyes must constantly accommodate the marine horizon to domestic space.

The studio takes place in the image of the real situation: the program, phases, rhythms, documents, and supports are those defined by the city’s various stakeholders.  A trip to Le Havre, midway through the semester, will consist of a workshop aimed at providing a deep understanding of this real-world situation.  Participants of the workshop will include project stakeholders, the mayor of Le Havre and other city officials, the Port Authority, and other experts. Studying the work of Perret, Prouvé, and Niemeyer will be key.  The trip will continue in Paris to study other major buildings and public spaces.

This studio is open to landscape architecture, architecture and urban planning/design students.

Michel Desvigne and Inessa Hansch will be in residence on August 29, 30, September 8, 9, 15 and 16, October 13, 14, 20 and 21, November 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18 and the week of December 5th.