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UNESCO Classification of Le Havre, France Makes Life Dif...

UNESCO Classification of Le Havre, France Makes Life Difficult for Some Residents

Ten years after its UNESCO classification, people unanimously agree that the Auguste Perret style has led to a more positive perception of Le Havre, France. However, several dissonant voices express that it is not always easy to live in such a monument. “I am not afraid to say it: I would prefer to not have

Le Havre, France as seen from the beach

Ten years after its UNESCO classification, people unanimously agree that the Auguste Perret style has led to a more positive perception of Le Havre, France. However, several dissonant voices express that it is not always easy to live in such a monument.

“I am not afraid to say it: I would prefer to not have a UNESCO classification and be able to benefit from better energy efficiency in my apartment.” One hundred and thirty-three hectares (about 329 acres) of Le Havre were reconstructed (after WWII). After being hated for a half-century, the reconstruction of Le Havre by modern architect Auguste Perret is praised, even by the majority who had plenty of negative things to say before its UNESCO classification. Thus today, the voice of Sylviane Duval is rather singular.

Duval is a renter in a Perret apartment building on François-1er Boulevard that belongs to social landlord Alcéane. Along with several neighbors belonging to Amicale CNL (The National Housing Confederation), she is fighting to obtain sufficient thermal insulation. The buildings’ energy performance is Class D. This is a very mediocre classification, but is relatively normal for an apartment building from the 1950s. When this same building was given a UNESCO classification, however, the path to remediating the problem became complicated, even impossible.

Place de l'Hotel de Ville, Le Havre, France

Doors and windows were replaced with modern counterparts that respect the architect’s style, but at this time, it is impossible to insulate the exterior walls as this would conceal Perret’s famous reinforced concrete. “Our energy bills are very high, but they told us that insulating the facades is impossible,” sigh the renters. Jean-Pierre Niot, the director of Alcéane admits to this dilemma.

It is a fact: we cannot touch the facades, which would jeopardize the UNESCO classification. Today, the solution of interior insulation is unsatisfactory because of its cost and because it substantially reduces the livable square footage of the building. The partial solution is to insulate the rooftops. For the rest, we’ll need to use our imagination.”

In the Perret zone, buildings obligated to partake in an energy audit beginning in 2017 risk running into disagreeable surprises. “It’s true that the thermal insulation is mediocre,” says François Heuzé, one of the trustees in charge of managing the classified buildings. “And insulation from the interior, the most efficient solution today, is very costly and entirely the responsibility of the owner.” Another tough blow for the classified zone is asbestos in the heating and air ducts of certain buildings. Estelle, a renter for the past 7 years in one of the towers of Porte-Océane, made the decision to move this year in order to protect her child.

Porte-Océane, Le Havre, France

“This winter, we didn’t even use the heat. We blocked the vents. And even though they repeat that there is no risk, it isn’t reassuring.” In effect, all samples taken show that there is no asbestos dust in the actual ventilation system, as the asbestos was encapsulated.

Finally, UNESCO charges extra for renovations linked to meeting modern standards, and changes are closely surveyed by urban planning services. “The classification allowed us to obtain rules and to have unity within our apartment buildings,” says Édouard Morlot from Jullien et Allix, the zone’s historical union. “But there is an extra charge for the work that is sometimes out of touch with the times. Requiring wooden windows forbidding rolling shutters are real constraints that could use flexibility.”

The paradox of these difficulties is that the Perret zone remains one of the most attractive in Le Havre. “A good thing in the Perret zone is that if housing is priced at market value, it sells very quickly,” assures Édouard Morlot. “And the inhabitants rarely move, which is proof that they feel good here.” Moreover, none of the renters from the François-1er group who are making demands to Alcéane for better thermal insulation are ready to leave. “I waited fifteen years to get this housing,” affirms Christine Kuczynski. “I know that living in the Perret zone is a privilege that many people wish they had.”

How have preservation and energy efficiency been reconciled in your city? How does your community deal with updating historical buildings? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Image 3 by Phillippe Alès. Images 1, 2, and data linked to sources.

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Katelyn Hewett recently graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts in English and French. During her time at St. Olaf, she enjoyed playing the French Horn in the St. Olaf Band, working as a teaching assistant for first-year...

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