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A tale not told often is that of what modernist architects had planned for Europe , and their struggle to rebuild the destroyed cities through utopic reconstruction plans meant to redefine the lost cities disappeared in the fighting which took place in World War II , in a new modernist image . This was one of Le Corbusier’s , or Pierre Jeanerette by his real name, lasting dreams which would push him to try and achieve complete control over the creation of a urban landscape. Immediately after the war ended France he was preoccupied with reconstructing the towns and cities which were destroyed, but it mostly wanted them as they were. Commissions were organized to asses the costs and oversee the reconstruction efforts . This would be a tedious task as with some cities where almost 90% of the urban center was destroyed , cities like Caen , St. Lo , Vierville, Viller-Bocage , Brest or Bayeux . Cities were damaged all over France and even in some parts which did not see fighting as vicious as in Normandy , the damage was still considerable. Many architects saw the opportunity , not only to reconstruct but to change and transform the cities which were damaged.
Le Corbusier was by 1945 a world renowned architect , and a leading figure of modernism in architecture. He was also behind some urban projects like Chandigarh and urban planning projects in Algeria . He had considered cities in France for his visionary projects , like the Ville Radieuse but even the non-manifest projects were hard to get off the ground , mostly due to the hostility of transforming town completely. In search of a perfect spot , Le Corbusier found the town of Saint Die des Vosges , a mountain town in near the Alsace-Lorraine border , situated in Lorraine , and embraces within a small valley by the Vosges Mountains. This would be an ideal place for the brave new world of modernism to shine in Europe and would be the proof that a city can and should be rebuilt in a new fashion.
St. Die was a established since 669 and became a town in late 13th century, it managed to endure the sieges and battles of the late medieval age and early renaissance. This would be a battle ground first between burgundians and members of the league of Constance, and then between French and Austrian armies , as Lorraine became a heated border dispute. Much of the medieval town burned in 1757 during a great fire and was completely rebuilt in the french classicist manner. This was the image of the town in 1944 , when it would be faced with its greatest calamity.
But why was St. Die chosen ? And how it came that this town needed to be rebuild , since its located in a quiet corner of the world. The answer lies within the history of World War Two’s late days , and the ever more ferocious battles to push the germans towards the German border.In the autumn of 1944 , after disastrous defeats in France in the previous summer, the Wehrmacht was struggling to rebuild its shattered divisions . Army Group G , which fought in southern France retreated northwards towards the french-german border after operation Dragoon. St Die was located on the Meurth river and was a vital crossing point . The germans were faced with increasing pressure and knew they would eventually be forced to leave and retreat from the town. In Novemeber 1944 , to avoid encirclement the germans began making preparations for the retreat, they would use in St. Die the scorched earth strategy which involved burning most of the city , and deporting the population to Germany for forced labor . By the 17th of November Ost legion troops of the Wehrmacht , comprising russian , ukrainian and other slav forced conscripts managed to destroy nearly all the houses on the eastern bank of the Meurthe while pioneers blew up the 4 bridges over river . Numerous factories and mining centers were destroyed while railway equipment was moved to Germany to rebuild the railways destroyed by allied bombing . At last , the town received one final deathblow when allied bombers destroyed what was left of the town before being liberated by american forces.
What was left after the war .
Scorched earth and its result.
View St. Die , November 1944.
The germans destroyed most the infrastructure before retreating , and what was left was bombed by the allies.
St. Die a ruined town like so many in western Europe in 1944.
The center of the town lay in ruins by 1945.
The german army set most of the town aflame during their retreat as they were pushed back by american forces .
After the war , the places were the building were have been marked for the planned reconstruction.
Again , every ground print of the houses was marked for a easy location of the buildings during reconstruction.
After the war the reconstruction effort began and priorities were established. St. Die , being a small town was supposed to be built in 1946 but efforts were hampered by the lack of clear directives on part of the ministry for reconstruction. Ii mostly promoted the old policy of the Vichy Government, that required every project of reconstruction to take into account local culture and local building traditions . This policy was widely supported and praised , but in many cases modern design was blended with the local traditions. In St. Die two associations of refugees were formed and one was headed by Jacques Duval , a friend of Le Corbusier , who presumably brought Pierre Jeanerette into the reconstruction effort. He was not made chief architect but nonetheless submitted his own master-plan named plan directeur as he had done previously in 1942 for Algiers and presented it to Petain government in the day. When word was out that Le Corbusier was planning their city , the local population began to be concerned . Le Corbusier planned to have 8 unitee d’habitation on the same scale as the one in Marseille would be years later. He also redesigned the cities main axes and proposed a great central square for pedestrians. This huge plaza would bypassed by roads that would surround the town. Needless to say people were not happy and even without seeing the plans they knew Le Corbusier was a radical architect .
Le Corbusier’s plan directeur , plan sketches and perspectives.
Plan of the new city , encompassing Le Corbusier’s views on urban planning shown in La Ville Radieuse.
Perspective of the new green parks so prevalent in modernist planning.
View of the future main plaza with the old baroque church in the background.
The skyline of the new city , dominated by the 8 unite d’habitation.
Sketch of planned layout of the city.
Main view of St. Die and its new form.
Wooden model of the city , with base geometry.
Model of the town with descriptions for every building type and colors illustrating roads and green spaces .
The other solution for St. Die came from Paul Resal who proposed a plan that kept the city intact , much like the pre-war city was. He proposed a few changes here and there but the plan mainly called for the rebuilding of the enitre city. Le Corbusier’s plans were also attacked by Resal’s motto for his project : “St. Die is not a city to crate , but a city to reconstruct”. Faced with such opposition to his plans , Le Corbusier tried to gather international support , especially from the United States. However by then the approval was given to the Andre-Malot plan , and the only building Le Corbusier would build in St. Die would be Jacques Duval’s Factory .
St. Die Today
The center of St. Die today.
Panoramic view of the town.
Downtown St. Die.
Modern Architecture found its place with the new liberty tower.
Le Corbusier’s Duval Factory
The only work of Le Corbusier in St. Die.
Interiors of the Duval Factory.
The modernist facade that still stands today.
In 1945 , the residents of St. Die felt that their town was unique and that Le Corbusiers plans would ruin their little alpine town , its heritage and history. However the town could not be rebuild entirely like it was before the war , and manny modern collective housing blocks appeared later . Today St, Die looks unimpressive and many wondered what might have been if Le Corbusier’s plans would have come to fruition . Many buildings old buildings from 18 and 19th century were lost , and due to financial reasons they were replaced by modern houses. The Duval factory also proved the Le Corbusiers designs could withstand the Vosges climate. All in all the citizens of St. Die wonder now if a great opportunity was missed, it is true that Le Corbusier had radical view but from all other architects , and all other plans that were submited for the reconstruction of St. Die , his plans were the only ones that daringly gazed towards the future , it could have been the dark future that people saw in 1945 or it could have been a spectacular destiny for St. Die . Le Corbusier’s plans may have seemed radical , but his plans were turned also because of the fear of what the future may bring , a future so diferent from the past , but here lies Pierre Jeanerette’s greatest contribution to architecture , he dared to look one way only towards the future and its magical new look.