05/30/2016 News

The city of Le Havre, an exemplary partnership

Le Havre is home to one of the Total Group's largest and most dynamic industrial platforms: its activities employ nearly 2,500 people. Such close relations over so many years have naturally led to the involvement of the Fondation Total in the city's cultural and heritage issues.

Since 2009, the Fondation du patrimoine (Heritage Foundation) and the Fondation Total have been committed to promoting the city's heritage. Backed by a partnership between these two foundations, the preservation and protection of the city's heritage has been all the more gratifying thanks to Le Havre's unique appreciation and respect for this patrimony, much of which was reconstructed after the destruction of World War II.
From the sculpture "Le Signal" looking out to sea, to the monumental statues at the swimming pool, the Fondation Total has been committed to supporting these projects, which not only enhance the beauty of the spaces they occupy, but also, where possible, create new sites of cultural interest. The renovation of Oscar Niemeyer's Volcano encompasses both of these objectives, while at the same time exemplifying a shared boldness and taste for innovation.

The restoration of the La Main ("The Hand") fountain at the Espace Oscar Niemeyer was inaugurated on 13 May 2016; on the same day, a new sponsorship agreement was signed for the restoration of the Le Chevalier footbridge that spans the Bassin du Commerce.

These events were an opportunity for the two foundations to celebrate 10 years of partnership, and to take stock of their joint actions within the City of Le Havre, with a total sum of € 833,000 being devoted to the restoration of the city's heritage.

In this presentation, you will discover Le Havre's distinctive architectural features through some of the restored monuments which reflect the city's singularity and modernity.

from AUGUSTE PERRET to OSCAR NIEMEYER, le havre's architectural avant-garde

In 1945, at the end of World War II, the Ministry of Reconstruction and Urban Development entrusted the rebuilding of the city of Le Havre, which had been destroyed by bombings, to the architect Auguste Perret. The reconstruction was finished in 1964.

The site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

Between 1978 and 1982, the building of a cultural centre was entrusted to the celebrated Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (1907 -2012). Built as an extension of the Bassin du Commerce, the Espace Oscar Niemeyer is made up of two buildings: a national theatre (known as "The Volcano") and a library (the "Little Volcano"). This emblematic site is a key element in one of the city's distinctive panoramas, and forms part of Le Havre's rebuilt city centre, a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.

The Espace Oscar Niemeyer is one of the great architect's three major constructions in France, along with the Communist Party headquarters in Paris (a listed building) and the Labour Exchange in Bobigny. An icon of Brazilian architecture, and with a career spanning over seventy years, Oscar Niemeyer designed nearly six hundred architectural projects worldwide. He received some of the world's most prestigious awards, including the Pritzker Prize (1988), and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

espace niemeyerc

Espace Oscar Niemeyer © Philippe Bréard – City of Le Havre

THE HAND FOUNTAIN, a very personal record of the artist

Leaning against the hull of the "Volcano" on Basse square, the hand fountain was made from a cast of Oscar Niemeyer's own hand.

According to the wishes of the architect, the fountain is the only source of movement within this space, with only the sound of water flowing from Oscar's hand disturbing the still tranquillity of this urban environment. Oscar Niemeyer gave his approval for its complete restoration shortly before his death.

In 2013, a € 200,000 grant was given to restore the "La Main" fountain to its original state, and to renovate both the exterior façades of the "Volcanoes" and the concrete balustrades in the shape of doves, while waterproofing the terraces of both buildings.



Furniture inside the Espace Oscar Niemeyer © Patrick Boleyn - City of Le Havre

In 2009, a € 19,800 grant enabled the restoration of 57 seats (armchairs and Ottomans) designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

In both of the Volcano buildings, Oscar Niemeyer designed the indoor spaces with a focus on the relationship between volume, material and light. The furniture designed by Oscar Niemeyer completes this ensemble. It consists of square and round marble tables as well as gold or blue leather armchairs and Ottomans.

A total of 57 seats are registered in the supplementary inventory of French historic monuments. Most seats were unusable due to various forms of damage and wearing of the leather coverings. This furniture has today regained its place within the two restored buildings, the national "Volcano" theatre and the Niemeyer library.


THE FRANÇOIS LE CHEVALIER FOOTBRIDGE, an emblem of the city's landscapeille

Le Chevalier Footbridge © Erik Levilly - City of Le Havre

The sponsorship agreement signed on 13 May 2016 will enable the restoration of this monument thanks to a contribution of € 100,000 for preventive work on the footbridge aimed at avoiding the structure's deterioration.

The François Le Chevalier footbridge spans the Bassin du Commerce. This basin is one of the oldest port infrastructures created as an urban extension of the city, to facilitate the growth of trade. For the International Maritime Fair of 1887, a metal footbridge was built opposite the Chamber of Commerce. Destroyed in 1944, it was replaced by the current footbridge.

Reflecting the industrial and contemporary style of the 1970s, it is the work of the architect Guillaume Gillet, who was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1946. This footbridge, which won an award in 1972 for its metalwork design, is one of his most beautiful creations. 100 meters long and almost 40 meters high, it has become an emblem of the city of Le Havre. It connects the docks of Lamblardie and George V, ending on the north side of the Palais de la Bourse.

« THE SIGNAL », a monumental contemporary art sculpture

The Signal © Cécile Gérard - City of Le Havre

The sculpture's restoration in 2012 was made possible thanks to a € 63,000 grant.
Erected opposite the MuMa (the André Malraux museum of modern art), it is now owned by the French National Fund for Contemporary Art.

Elevated on the square in front of the museum, and a result of many years of preparatory studies (1955-1961), "The Signal" is 22 meters long and weighs 22 tonnes. Envisaged by Adam, an artist close to the Surrealists and to Picasso, who viewed sculpture as a specifically monumental art form, the work was created with the museum site in mind. Its realisation implied a technical challenge: although hollow, "The Signal" has a significant reach, with only a quarter of its length being directly supported by its base. While helping to resolve the sculpture's load-bearing issues, the choice of armoured concrete also takes on a particular significance within this newly-reconstructed city. The artist plays with the visual effects of the concrete by using a thin cement on the final layer of the work which gives it a bright sheen.Reflecting André Malraux's own hopes for the museum, the sculpture's modernity comes across as a symbol of France's regeneration. The artist called it an "eye looking towards the future".

After battling the winds without protection for fifty years, bad weather and erosion had made the sculpture the worse for wear. The infiltration of water, some of it saline, had accelerated its ageing. It was restored to its original state.


THE SWIMMING POOL AND ITS FACADE, an Art Deco monument honouring the city's past

Swimming pool on the Cours de la République © Erik Levilly City of Le Havre

The building was inaugurated in 2013 after a restoration of the pool's Art Deco façade to its original appearance (€ 150,000 contribution). Its story reflects the twists and turns of history.

Built in 1937 according to plans by André Lenoble, Le Havre's swimming pool displays a remarkable architecture. The simple design of its façade is typical of the 1930s, a time when public buildings were expected to display monumental characteristics. To adorn the main entrance, Alphonse Saladin, who worked with Rodin and was artist-curator of Le Havre's Fine Arts Museum, was commissioned to create two monumental bronze sculptures.

The building's construction began in April 1937, with work due to be completed in October 1939. With the start of the war the swimming pool's completion was delayed until September 1940, at which point the conglomeration of Le Havre, considered a German stronghold, was already severely affected by allied bombings. Le Havre's citizens did not get a chance to try out this modern establishment, as the pool was immediately requisitioned by the German army who occupied it and installed a monitoring station and anti-aircraft missiles on the roof. In 1942, Saladin's two bronze statues were removed and melted down by the German army. After the German soldiers left, it was the turn of the American GI's, who made the most of the pool until 1946, modifying and damaging various indoor facilities. After some rudimentary renovation work and repainting, the pool was finally opened to the public in September 1946 and inaugurated on 16 October, in a Le Havre where reconstruction had just begun.

During the building's renovation in 1977, the pool's main façade was covered over with aluminium cladding. The removal of this cladding in February 2011 meant that the original marble stone surface could be brought to light once more. Today the pool has been restored to its original state, with its colours, its columns and its monumental stature.

It should be noted that the two bronze statues by Saladin, melted down by the Germans but whose original plaster casts were kept in the Malraux Museum, have been restored thanks to a collection launched by the City under the auspices of the Heritage Foundation which totalled € 24,000.


Link to the shared site of the Fondation Total - Heritage Foundation