Le Havre : Maison de la culture “le Volcan”
Fiche DOCOMOMO - English version

< retour


> version française

Le "Volcan" ou espace Niemeyer. ©Photographie Cyril Jamet, VDH


DoCoMoMo International Register


current name of building:
variant or former name:

number and name of street:

Le Volcan [The Volcano]
Maison de la Culture du Havre (M.C.H.)
[Le Havre Community Cultural Centre];
Espace Oscar-Niemeyer [Oscar Niemeyer Forum]
Place Charles de Gaulle
Le Havre                         code: 76600




Municipality of Le Havre
57, place de l'Hôtel de Ville, 76600 Le Havre
(011.33.) (0) 2 35 19 45 45
(Le Volcan 02 35 19 10 10)
(Le Volcan 02 35 19 10 00)


type :

ZPPAUP (Zone de Protection du Patrimoine Architectural, Urbain et Paysager [Zone of Protection of Architectural, Urban and Landscape Heritage])

date :



nom :
adresse :

téléphone :
fax :

Mairie du Havre [City Hall of Le Havre]
57, place de l'Hôtel de Ville
76600 Le Havre
(011.33) (0)2 35 19 45 45
02 35 19 46 15

Volcan 001 : general sketch by Oscar Niemeyer ; Volcan 002 : section of the Large Volcano


commission brief:
From the start of the reconstruction of Place Gambetta (now Place du Général de Gaulle) the square was intended to accommodate a monumental municipal building. In an interview of October 1945, Perret declared: ‘On the site of the theatre, we shall build an ensemble that will be the centre of Le Havre's intellectual and artistic life’ . Since the early 19th century with the construction of the Grand Théâtre, Place Gambetta had functioned as the Mecca of Le Havre, the centre of urban conviviality due to the animation of its cafés.
Set to one side deliberately off-axis, the small square (today Place Perret) was intended to reveal from a flattering angle this theatre on its pre-war site. Perret had conceived a monument integrated into a minor architectural framework with continuous porticos to allow the square to be traversed under cover. Pierre Dalloz proposed a study based on a programme with nautical clubs, tourist offices and cafés. Thirteen proposals were submitted, including those by Gérard du Pasquier, Gaston Delaune and Jacques Lamy in 1951, Guy Lagneau and Raymond Audigier in 1954 and Gleize in 1957-1959, but the allocated budgets were attributed to other projects deemed priorities, leaving the square empty. By the late 1950s, Jacques Tournant advocated connecting commercial spaces to the theatre and, in 1961, the idea of an ‘embryon of a business centre’ emerged. The birth of the Maison de la Culture on this site was thus tied up with the joint intention to create a commercial centre.
In 1967, the Maison de la Culture, separated from the Museum of Fine Arts where it had been inaugurated in 1961, was installed provisionally within the Théâtre de l’Hôtel de Ville [Theatre of the City Hall] that adjoined the building to the east. The idea of constructing an independent cultural centre, comprised of a theatre, was revived. In 1966-1967, Guillaume Gillet (with Gaston Delaune and Gérard du Pasquier, project architects) established a circular urban plan around Place Gambetta, including commercial spaces and underground parking garage as well as a building to house both theatre, cultural centre, municipal casino and bowling lanes. In 1972, the Le Havre Communist Municipality, led by André Duroméa, decided to override the hesitations of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs by imposing the world-renown Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. In 1973, a study of the municipal programme was undertaken by the Bureau d’ Etudes pour les travaux d’ équipements culturels et sportifs [Research Consultancy on Cultural and Sports Facilities]. Thereafter Niemeyer also entered into parallel discussions with the Le Havre community to clarify the programme. In 1974, he presented a preliminary proposal to the general public, followed by a film about his work and a debate. After several proposals involving functions deemed too avant garde, Niemeyer undertook an overall plan of the square so as to reach an agreement with the municipality.
In 1976, the proposal for this new cultural and commercial ensemble was suspended by the Secretary of State for Culture, but a major public petition campaign led by the Administrative Council of the MCH allowed the project to be relaunched in 1977.
Building supervision was headed by the Société d’Aménagement de la Région du Havre pour la Ville du Havre [Le Havre Regional Planning Agency for the City of Le Havre].
Cost: 56 millions French francs.
Interior building surface: 12,219.20m²
(Grand Volcan [Large Volcano]: 6,948.90m²; Petit Volcan [Small Volcano]: 5,270.30m²).

architectural designer: Oscar Niemeyer
whose Paris office was active from 1972 to 1981.

other designers:
French architect Jean-Maur Lyonnet (project architect, Niemeyer's collaborator) who had already worked with Niemeyer on the French Communist Party Headquarters (Paris, 1965-1980); Charles Mourier, scenographic and technical advisor for the City of Le Havre, technical director in charge of supervising construction site progress; Le Havre architect Jean-Pierre Pinon and his successor Bernard Goument representing the architectural service of the City of Le Havre; Albert Giry for acoustics; Raymond Linotte, scenographer and representative for the Maison de la Culture du Havre.

consulting engineers:
E.G.I (Consulting Engineers’ Office, specialists in thin-shell construction with the group Quillery); Cabinet Hapel.

Structure, Quillery S.A. Saint Maur; waterproofing, SPAPA; electricity, Saunier Duval; wood-frame construction, M.B.S.; metal-frame construction, M.A.D.-Sabatier.


competition date:
commission date:
design period:
duration of site work:

start: 15 September 1978

Spring 1982


Official i nauguration, 18 November 1982,
by Jack Lang, Minister of Culture.



current use:
1200-seat theatre and 350-seat cinema in the Large Volcano; multi-use hall with 200-500 seat capacity, 80-seat auditorium, meeting and rehearsal rooms in the Small Volcano; exhibits hall, workshops, offices in the intermediary spaces; 600-space parking garage; enclosed plaza.

current condition:
Mediocre state . Cladding of the two volcanoes is worn by skateboard tracks on the lower portions. The Large Volcano interior has leaks at the window level, and the shabby condition of the original furniture is noticeable. The Municipality plans to undertake a study.

summary of restoration and other works carried out, with dates:
1988: new neon signage designed by Yvan Le Soudier.
1993: renovation of the cladding of the two buildings.
1997: renovation of the electrical system for the Large Volcano lighting;
- amelioration of the Large Volcano acoustics through wood cladding installed throughout the hall;
- replacement of the old mauve broadloom carpet in the Large Volcano with a charcoal one;
- refection of the cinema hall;
Reconfiguration of the multi-use hall in the Small Volcano:
- increased height under the grille (from 6 to 8 metres),
- three-level modular system for the stage which facilitates transformation of the function of the hall,
- new steps,
- wood panels placed over the raw concrete,
- creation of a small salon attached to the loges.
2001: erection of a glass cage to house the parking garage elevators on the square.

Volcan 003 : block plan ; Volcan 004 : photomontage of the model


written records, correspondence, etc.:

drawings, photographs, etc.:

Municipal archives of the city of Le Havre:
- Contemporary collection:
FC M4 C145 L1: preliminary proposal for the Grand Théâtre (1951-1959 et 1961-1965);
FC M4 C145 L2: theatre, casino, bowling in the architectural ensemble on Place Gambetta (1958-1968);
FC M4 C166 L1 : architectural ensemble on Place Gambetta (1972-1973);
FC M4 C166 L2 : construction programme for the cultural ensemble (1974).
- Documentary dossier 29/3.1, 6.1.
- Archives 196 BCX, 4 W 120 to 123:
4 W 120: preliminary project dossier of the Cultural Ensemble of Le Havre 1976-1977 (plans, sections, guidelines); Place Gambetta parking garage dossier;
4 W 121: detailed preliminary dossier; plans (including modified plans);
4 W 122: detailed preliminary project for the Gambetta parking garage (10 June 1976: Service de l’Architecture, presentation report on the preliminary urban design plan for Place Gambetta);
4 W 123: construction permit;
BC 196 MODIF: foundations and soundings dossier:
- Rapport sur les problèmes du commerce de détail au Havre, 1961.

Archives of the Chamber of Commerce of Le Havre:
Documents concerning studies on the urban design plan for Place Gambetta by CETCO (Centre havrais d’études techniques et commerciales [Le Havre centre of technical and commercial analyses]) before and after the selection of Niemeyer's definitive project.
Portfolio 1999-1-55: bulletins of CETCO n°4 (April 1966, photomontage of the project) and n°12 (March 1970, plan of a project); CETCO, Le Havre Actualités, n°3 (1973), n°4 (1974) and n°7 (1976).

Archives of IFA (Institut français d’architecture):
Auguste Perret collection: ‘Aerial perspective of Place Gambetta’ 535 AP74/1, 45.1.357 and 535 AP 73/1 n° CNAM 45.1.37t (18 January 1948).
Guillaume Gillet collection, box 187: proposal for a theatre-casino-cultural centre

Centre de Documentation de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (CDAP), DRAC, Haute-Normandie (Rouen) or Mérimée base on website www.culture.gouv.fr: information cards on files studied by the Inventory.
Mérimée numbers IA00130249; sculptures IM76004487 (‘The Chanteloup Wall’ , Martine Boileau, State repository, 1974), IM76004488 (‘The Hand’ , 1982).

other sources, film, videos, etc.:
Interview with Niemeyer at the Maison de la Culture du Havre, 1981.
Clairval (Cécile) and Olivier Ricard, producers, Une architecture lyrique, Oscar Niemeyer, produced by Channel 2, French Television, 1974.
Mouriéras (Claude), Le Havre - Espace Oscar Niemeyer, Maison de la Culture du Havre, 1983.
Wajnberg (Marc-Henri), producer, Rogier van Eck, scriptwriter, Production Arte France, Panic Productions (Paris), Wajnbross Productions (Brussels), RTBF (Belgian Television), Polo de Imagem (São Paulo), 2002.

principal publications (in chronological order):

Books on Niemeyer
Papadaki (Stamo), Oscar Niemeyer, masters of world architecture, New York, 1960.
Niemeyer (Oscar), Mon expérience à Brasilia, Paris, 1963.
Spade (Rupert), Oscar Niemeyer, London, 1971.
Niemeyer (Oscar), Niemeyer, Lausanne, 1977.
Niemeyer (Oscar), La forme en architecture, Paris, 1978.
Luigi (Gilbert), Oscar Niemeyer: une esthétique de la fluidité, Marseille, Editions Parenthèses, 1987.
Bailby (Edouard), Niemeyer par lui-même, autobiographical interview, Editions Balland, 1993.
Petit (Jean), Niemeyer, poète d’architecture, Lugano, Sidia Edizioni d’ Arte, 1995.
Sewaga (Hugo), Arquiteturas no Brasil: 1900-1990, São Paulo, Editoria da Universidade de São Paulo, 1998.
Niemeyer (Oscar), As courvas do tempo, memórias, Rio de Janeiro, Editoria Revan, 1998; French trans., Les Courbes du temps, mémoires, Paris, Gallimard, 1999.
Salvaing (Matthieu), Oscar Niemeyer, Paris, 2002.
Segawa (Hugo), ‘The reception of the Brazilian Trend’ , La Réception de l'Architecture du Mouvement Moderne : Image, Usage, Héritage. The Reception of Architecture: Image, Usage, Heritage, J.-Y. Andrieux, F. Chevallier (eds.), Scientific proceedings of the Seventh conference of DOCOMOMO [Documentation et la conservation d'édifice, sites et ensembles urbains du mouvement moderne], UNESCO, Paris, April 2003; trans. Barbara Shapiro Comte, Presses universitaires de Saint-Etienne, 2005.

Books on Brazilian architecture
Hitchcock (Henry-Russell), Latin American Architecture since 1945, New York, 1955.
Mindlin (Henrique), Modern Architecture in Brazil, New York, 1956.
Evenson (Norma), Two Brazilian Capitals. Architecture and Urbanism in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, London, 1973.
Bruand (Yves), L’Architecture contemporaine au Brésil, Paris, 1980.
Dekker (Zilah Quezado), Brazil Built, the Architecture of the Modern Movement in Brazil, New York, Spoon Press, 2001.

Books on Le Havre
Godefroy (Georges), Le Havre, ville neuve, Le Havre, 1954, model of the first theatre proposal, pl.74.
Cremnitzer (Jean-Bernard), Architectures au Havre, 1840-1989, Le Havre, Division Aménagement et Urbanisme de la Ville du Havre, 1988; section of the Volcano.
Plouchard (François), Histoire de la Maison de la Culture du Havre, 1961-1984 (unpublished masters thesis, Université de Rouen, Institut d’Histoire), 1992.

Books on Maisons de la Culture
Colloquium, Les Maisons de la Culture dans la cité, Maison de la Culture d’Amiens, 1976.

History of French modern architecture
Monnier (Gérard), L’architecture moderne en France, tome 3: De la croissance à la compétition, 1967-1999, Paris, 2000.

Articles on Brazil and Niemeyer
L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°13-14, September 1947, special issue on Brazil.
L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°42-43, 1952, special issue on Brazil.
L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°90, 1960, special issue on Brazil.
‘Portrait de Niemeyer’ , Jardin des arts, n°178, 1966, pp.14-25.
‘Oeuvres de Niemeyer’ , Architectural Review, n°151, 1972, pp.135-144.
‘Portrait de Niemeyer’ , D’A, n°39, October 1993, pp.36-38.
‘Portrait de Niemeyer’ , Beaux-Arts, n°213, February 2002, pp.64-69.
‘Portrait de Niemeyer’ , Connaissance des arts, n°591, February 2002, pp.48-55.
‘Entretien avec Niemeyer’ , D’A, n°118, February 2002, pp.8-11.

 On the Maison de la Culture/Théâtre du Havre
‘Un théâtre définitif de 3000 places sur la place Gambetta’ , Le Havre Libre, 19 June 1947, p.1.
L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°23, May 1949, Performance Sites.
‘Le conseil municipal adopte l’avant-projet du théâtre de Du Pasquier, Delaune et Lamy’ , Le Havre Libre, 22 December 1954.
‘En 1966 la place Gambetta aura retrouvé son Grand Théâtre’ , Le Havre Libre, 10 December 1963, pp. 1, 6.
‘Les programmes français de maisons de la culture’ , L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°112, February-March 1964, Relaxation Hobbies Escape, p.27.
Jager (A.), ‘Les maisons des jeunes et de la culture’ , Techniques et Architecture, February 1964, p.90.
‘Ce que sera la place Gambetta avec l’ensemble Grand Théâtre - Maison de la Culture - Casino’ , Le Havre Libre, 16 December 1964, p.3.
Jager (A.), ‘Les maisons de la culture’ , Techniques et Architecture, February 1965, pp.128-137.
‘Les maisons de la culture en France’ , L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°129, December 1966-January 1967, Cultural Buildings, p.64.
‘La Maison de la Culture du Havre’ , L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°152, October-November 1970, Performance Sites, p. 41.
‘Premiers plans et maquettes de la Maison de la Culture du Havre’ , L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°171, January-February 1974, special issue on Niemeyer, p.86.
‘La Maison de la Culture du Havre’ , L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°184, 1976, pp. XIX-XXIV.
‘Le projet Niemeyer remis en question’ , Le Havre Libre, 22 December 1976.
‘La Maison de la Culture du Havre’ , L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°199, October 1978, Performance sites, pp.71-73.
‘Le gros œuvre du petit volume est achevé’ , Le Havre Libre, 28 May 1980, p.3.
‘Niemeyer explique son travail’ , Le Havre Libre, 1 July 1980.
‘La Maison de la Culture du Havre’ , L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°210, 1980, pp. XXVI-XXVII.
‘Le Centre Culturel, pôle d’attraction des architectes et techniciens français’ , Le Havre Libre, 22 January 1981, p.3.
‘Oscar Niemeyer, Architecte’ , Techniques et Architecture, n°334, 1981, pp.64-65.
‘Entretien avec Niemeyer’ , Construction moderne, n°30, June 1982, pp.19-26.
‘Ouverture du Centre Culturel’ , Le Havre Libre, 17 October 1982, p.3.
‘Entretien avec Niemeyer’ , Le Havre Libre, 10 November 1982, p.3.
‘A une semaine de l’Inauguration’ , Le Havre Libre, 11 November 1982, p.3.
‘Inauguration de la Maison de la Culture’ , Le Havre Information, n°67, December 1982.
‘Dossier Maison de la Culture du Havre’ , L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°228, September 1983, pp.20-27.
‘Dossier Maison de la Culture du Havre’ , Construction moderne, n°36, December 1983, pp.2-8.
Urbanisme et architecture, n°245, March 1991, pp.6-8.
‘Espace Niemeyer, la place de la Culture’ , D’A, n°42, January-February 1994, pp.44-45.
‘Grands travaux au Volcan’ , Le Havre Libre, 6 August 1997, p.7.
‘Depuis 20 ans, Niemeyer toujours en forme’ , Le Havre Libre, 27 March 2002, p.7.

Volcan 005: foyer of the theatre ; Volcan 006: access door for the transit of materials to the theatre wings ;
Volcan 007: access door for the transit of materials to the theatre wings©Photographie RSP, DOCOMOMO France, VDH


The Maison de la Culture is situated along the extension of the Bassin du Commerce, one of the strategic landscapes of the city centre. It is set on a square (each side 120 metres) framed to the south, north and west by buildings designed by the Perret Atelier on an orthogonal grid. Niemeyer did not want to conceive buildings whose form would enter into contradiction with the surrounding architecture. An architect conscious of the urban impact of his work, he plays with oppositions of scales, mass and levels. His composition is oriented toward the diagonal axis of the square, but does not extend past the buildings which border it.
From his first proposal, rather than conceiving a single dense building, Niemeyer proposed a forum system sunk below street level with boutiques sheltered beneath concrete marquees and two circular buildings (the theatre and the multi-purpose hall) united by a large slab containing the reception area, the exhibition spaces, the restaurants, and the childcare and information offices. At 3.70 metres below the square, pedestrian circulation is thus protected by a wide and winding pent roof. This cantilevered slab extends the ground level of the city so effectively that the two white buildings seem to surge from underground. The refinement toward the top of these volumes from the left exterior amplifies this dynamic thrust. Niemeyer lowered the square to create an original architecture that takes into account the climate (ocean winds) and the environment (harmonious neighbouring buildings). The square thus multiplies the architectural dimensions: passers-by do not see the elements from a single point of view; they can also observe the square from above. Niemeyer here proves that he knows how to adapt his architectural language invented in Brazil to Le Havre's weather. Niezeyer's goal was to dissimulate what could be treated as such and to leave the ground surface as aerated as possible.
The two lower levels, situated beyond the footprints of the buildings, under the forum, house the parking garage.
The programme components are distributed between the two distinct buildings: the one tall and massive, the other more discrete and open. This type of separation is one favoured by Niemeyer who likes to separate volumes corresponding to different functions without establishing visible contacts between them, as seen especially in the French Communist Party Headquarters in Paris and the Trades Council in Bobigny. ‘When there are two buildings, the space between them exists, it is part of the architecture’ , he stated. The facade of the multi-purpose hall, evenly pierced by loop holes, responds to the blind, asymmetrical theatre. Some rare apertures admit natural light into the halls, the foyer-bar and the offices. Artificial light is conceived in such as way as to appear indirectly.
The formwork was executed with sanded wood planks to preserve traces of the demoulding on the rough cladding on both the exterior and the interior of the two buildings. A white pigmentation was used to lighten the facades, now reclad with Revcoat.
The forum is accessible by three pedestrian ramps: two wide, gently sloped ones and one spiral. The latter was designed without any support but in the end an additional pier was required. Its form belongs to an architectural vocabulary privileged by Niemeyer (as seen in the ramps of the grand entry vestibule of the Itamaraty Palace or the reception salon of the Planalto Palace, Brasilia).
From the forum, the public entrance opens onto a vast common reception hall with cinema. Two staircases lead to the public foyer of the theatre. This too is directly accessible from the street through automatic opening doors set into the plan of the Large Volcano facade. The first study proposed an innovative theatre concept, with a revolving stage, so as to vary the position of the public during the same performance. This idea tempted Niemeyer as it allowed him to contribute to research on theatres. However his system was rejected in favour of a classical theatre plan (with an open stage 27.50 metres wide by 8.50 metres high). The auditorium amphitheatre is in the form of a shell. The ensemble of auditorium and stage occupies the total volume of the cupola whose panels have been left exposed. By contrast the multi-purpose hall takes the form of a half-hemicycle, half-trapezoid with an open, modular surface (spectators can thereby place themselves on either one side or the other side of the stage, to surround or face it).
Niemeyer also strove to compose an interior atmosphere: the seats of the theatre auditorium emphasize a colourful parterre, and in the foyer smoked mirrors reflect the light in a mysterious fashion. The furniture in the hall (fauteuils, cushions) form an integral part of his designs.
The sculpture-fountain affixed to the Large Volcano was executed from a model made by Niemeyer himself. As a legend under a sketch of the Maison de la Culture, the inscription reproduces a handwritten quotation by the architect.
The esplanade sculpture, installed several years later, was executed by Martine Boileau after a sketch by Niemeyer (State deposit).

Volcan 008: deterioration of the Large Volcano casing ; Volcan 009: Large Volcano
©Photographie RSP, DOCOMOMO France, VDH


1. technical appraisal:

The architecture of the Maison de la Culture is the outcome of technical achievements. The volumes are engendered by the potentialities of concrete (40,000m3 used in its construction). The maritime and underground water necessitated the erection of a coffer dam on approximately one hectare, enclosed by a 22-metre-high cast fencing wall. Groundwork across 115,000m3 first imprinted the depression for the future formworks; 239 foundation piles assured the courses of the building.
Here Niemeyer uses double-curved surfaces as for his chapel of the Palace of Aurora (1958-1960) and his metropolitan chapel at Brasilia (1959-1970). The two superstructure volumes are characterized by a hyperbolic paraboloid concrete shell envelope.
The Small Volacano is a volume in revolution, a hyperboloid. It is formed by a thin sloped concrete shell, supported by successive slabs. Its volume is symmetrical, but its panels are on a variable curve. A system of metal shutterings adapted to the cadences and non-repetitiveness of the structures was thus installed.
The Large Volcano is a hyperbolic paraboloid volume. The directive line of the construction is a hyperbola contained in a vertical plan, which is the plan of symmetry of the volume, it being generated by horizontal circles of varying diameters whose centres are located on the hyperbola. The Volcano was constructed by using a tubular scaffold overlapped within the interior structures of the lower section. This scaffold was covered by a general sheathing that served as a guiding device and support for an exterior shuttering of board facing panels fixed to the metal skeleton of variable geometry.
To avoid a deformation in the building, studies on the phenomenon of dilation tied to thermal variations were carried out. Plans and designs of the shell were executed with the ‘HERCULE’ computer programme derived from a NASA module for spatial calculation (EGI Office). All these various calculations take into account the effects of wind, temperature and sun. In the end, the shell has a variable thickness, twice as wide at the base as the upper portion. A reprise of horizontal stresses is made at the level of the underground floor by a slab of reinforced cement hollowed out by more than 60-centimetre in thickness. The shell is composed of thermal and acoustical insulation, a bituminous vapour barrier, a concrete shell and lastly a coat of paint to ensure the waterproofing. This ‘tight shell’ technique is altogether recent.
With gradual progression on the construction site, techniques changed. This required detailed preparation at each phase and the continuous necessity to compose new teams. This innovative jobsite received a great number of organized visits from architects and engineers of construction and French large scale public works.

2. social appraisal:
As a cultural and commercial space, the Volcano is an innovative model within the programme of Cultural/Community Centres.
Through its quality and proportions, its architecture gives an ideal and prestigious setting to the campaign of cultural diffusion and itself contributes to the artistic development of the public. Furthermore this architecture stands against all hierarchy of activities by its not privileging any one element which might have been preponderant. A fact relatively rare, this work was conceived through the integration of ideas with its future users. To Niemeyer, creating architecture is a political act. The phrase that he chose to inscribe above the water element on the Large Volcano well conveys this spirit: ‘One day, like this water, the earth, the beaches and the mountains will belong to us all’ .
Despite the positive features of the Maison de la Culture, the Le Havre community was not unanimous in its reception, certain criticisms notably focusing on the rupture it created with the city space.  

3. artistic and aesthetic appraisal:
The work of Oscar Niemeyer is an exemplary artistic act within Le Havre. It is not a static architecture but an architecture in movement, an urban and architectural promenade. The perception of volumes and spaces is continually reinvented according to the viewer's shifting movements. The Volcano is characteristic of Niemeyer's research on plasticity that transforms his constructions into habitable sculpture. Entirely constituted of variable curves, the Maison de la Culture sets itself in opposition to orthogonal architecture in general and to Le Havre's urban grid in particular. It offers a counterpoint to the structural classicism of Perret and to the typologies of the French Reconstruction. In this way these architectural compositions are each given reciprocal value: the one orthogonal and majestic, the other liberal and fluid. A dialogue is established between the two great masters of reinforced concrete. With the bridge of Guillaume Gillet, the Volcano animates the Bassin du Commerce by provoking an aesthetic shock within the repetitive landscape of the reconstructed city centre. In the imagination of the passers-by, these white volumes evoke the funnels of an ocean liner. Niemeyer has described the Volcano as ‘a non-Baroque object, but with a great deal of liberty’ . To the Brazilian architect, it is through these innovative technical possibilities that modern paths of beauty and poetry must be found.  

4. evidence of canonic status (local, national, international):
As in the past, this building still remains enormously popular both at the local and international level. In the heart of Le Havre, after many revivals abundantly commented on in the local press, its originality has become a powerful symbol of the city. It is one of four buildings constructed by Niemeyer in France. Numerous publications have assured its fame.

5. evaluation as a reference point in architectural history and in relation to comparable buildings:
The commercial mission of the Maison de la Culture of Le Havre is original. The Volcano might recall the civic and cultural centres of new towns. However its architecture follows the lineage of ‘Maisons de la Culture’ or cultural-community centres constructed in France by prominent architects during the 1960s and whose designs were innovative (Le Corbusier at Firminy 1960-1967; André Wogenscky at Grenoble, 1965-1968).
In contrast to the tradition of theatre architecture that clearly expresses the articulation of functional spaces through a hierarchical volumetric exterior, here the abstract volumes designed by Niemeyer silence the theatrical function. The public cannot imagine, initially, the activities housed within. This ensemble proceeds with a complete reinvestigation of the norms of the functionalist aesthetic: form does not follow function but rather suggests it; it envelopes all the elements under a single volume. Niemeyer had previous experience with this programme type. In Rio de Janeiro, he conceived a theatre in 1949 consisting entirely of curves, as he did for the theatre of the Manchete review headquarters.
According to Niemeyer’s testimony, the Italian architect and critic Bruno Zevi (during an international congress on architecture in Cairo) judged the Le Havre space ‘as one of the ten best works of contemporary architecture’ . Niemeyer himself considers that the Maison de la Culture in Le Havre ranks among his most successful accomplishments.

Volcan 010: multi-purpose hall ; Volcan 011: deterioration of the multi-purpose hall covering
©Photographie RSP, DOCOMOMO France, VDH


1. original visual records:
Volcan 001: general sketch by Oscar Niemeyer
Volcan 002: section of the Large Volcano
Volcan 003: block plan
Volcan 004: photomontage of the model

2. recent photographs and survey drawings:
digital photographs (Raphaëlle Saint-Pierre, 2004):
Volcan 005: foyer of the theatre
Volcan 006: access door for the transit of materials to the theatre wings
Volcan 007: access door for the transit of materials to the theatre wings
Volcan 008: deterioration of the Large Volcano casing
Volcan 009: Large Volcano
Volcan 010: multi-purpose hall
Volcan 011: deterioration of the multi-purpose hall covering
Volcan 012: hand-fountain
Volcan 013: confrontation between Niemeyer's architecture and Perret's architecture
Volcan 014: sculpture after a drawing by Niemeyer


Volcan 012: hand-fountain ; Volcan 013: confrontation between Niemeyer's architecture and Perret's architecture ;
Volcan 014: sculpture after a drawing by Niemeyer ©Photographie RSP, DOCOMOMO France, VDH


Reporter: Raphaëlle Saint-Pierre (under the direction of Fabienne Chevallier and Joseph Abram; June 2004)
Translator: Barbara Shapiro Comte (Summer 2006)


< retour