Passengers arriving by ferry or ocean liner in the French port of Le Havre have, for decades, satisfied the urge to step on the gas pedal and speed away. This ancient industrial harbor, along the English Channel, has long had a reputation as a dreary, gritty place. After the city’s devastation in World War II, it was rebuilt on a tight budget, largely by architect Auguste Perret, adhering to his famous dictum: “Concrete is beautiful.” Despite Perret’s talents, travelers—on trans-Atlantic crossings or en route between the U.K. and Paris or elsewhere on the Continent—rarely felt inspired to linger.
But that may be changing. With the city’s diminished role as a ferry transfer point since the Chunnel’s completion, and the obsolescence of its aging port infrastructure, Le Havre has been energetically reinventing itself. The current revitalization aims to transform some of France’s oldest docks into a leisure, cultural, and residential district, with both new construction and the adaptive reuse of low-lying warehouses.