Les Bains des Docks is an aquatic centre in Le Havre, France, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel.
The 5000 square metre complex comprises 12 pools, including a 50 x 21 metre outdoor pool, several leisure pools, a sauna, hammam, spa and fitness room.
The interior is covered in white tiles; brightly-coloured foam blocks form a children’s play area.
“It is a paradox, a building on a harbour scale, inspiring simplicity and robustness, but which betrays its complexity as soon as one penetrates its volumes,” says Nouvel. “One enters a universe of whiteness and depths.”
The centre opened in July last year and is part of a masterplan to regenerate the docklands area.
Photographs by Clément Guillaum.
The following information is from Jean Nouvel:
The Aquatic Center is composed of three principal entities: An external and heated sports pool of fifty meter long by twenty one meter wide, a play pool interior/external and a center of balneotherapy. The access is made through a single reception hall serving the cloakrooms of the play and sports pools and the cloakrooms of the balneotherapy center.
On the same floor, other suspended beaches and two suspended pools are accessible from the play pool. An internal connection connects all these pools for the visitors provided with a proper Pass. The center of cardio-training and its cloakrooms, the administration with a separate access, and the free access cafeteria, are arranged on the same floor and directly connected to the hall. The access to the technical premises located under the beaches is made though an open sky yard at the back of the building. A delivery l’espace is integrated in the building.
A Port even before being a city, Le Havre accompanied all along its history all the transformations related to the developments of maritime trade. With the technical progress and the irrepressible increase in the volume of trade, the port has built new infrastructures adapted to the new requirements.
Liberated territories are today returned to the city and opened to a new urbanity. New trade and leisure spaces are spread out there. The same for culture. Of the program worked out by the council, the Sea Discovery Center is the most symbolic, which embraces at once the estuary environment, the history navigation in Le Havre, the saga of the steamers and the future of the region.
To the belfry of the town hall and the tower of control of the port a new seamark, a high and clear signal, a strong symbol of the entry of Le Havre in a new era us to be added. Deploying its hieratic structure marked by two vast punts the tower of the Sea Discovery Center dominates all the territory and allows visitors to discover it in all its magnitude, its diversity and its magnificence.
Anchored in the mineral mass of the wharves, it stands like the mast of a ship, a look out post to offer to the visitor the everlasting show of men’s activities, arrivals and departure of the ships and trembling limit of changing skies and moving waters.
The regulating plan of Le Havre: a contribution. Successively military naval port, outer harbour of Rouen, commercial port where the vessels from Brazil, the Antilles, Africa, but also from England and the cities of la Hanse come to land, city where traders of coffee and spices, slave traders and other actors of the triangular trade have met long before becoming a port for transatlantic travellers, then a terminal of tankers and container ships, Le Havre will have embraced all the fluctuations and changes of maritime and international trade. Like its competitors, Le Havre had to give up its obsolete harbour infrastructures little by little. Thus, the docks dating back to the XIXth century are widely obsolete today. They are noticeably very close to the City Discovery Center.
The creation of Port 2000 has caused a global reflection on the future of the relationships between the city and its port. From now on, territories which were by nature distinct from the city, are part of it. From the reference area such as suggested by the program, one notices that within the borders of the well structured city by Perret a series of basins, docks, peninsulas, form a discontinuous fabric, a patchwork, an archipelago with each component having lived a specific history linked to a specific function.
This diversity which is welcome is accentuated by the range of projects already launched by the city, and which includes at the same time places with an administrative vocation (the Chamber of Commerce), touristic (hotels), residential (housing), hospital (a private clinic), of services (offices), commercial and leisure in a landscaped framework which tries to requalify circulations, and planted natural public spaces. All of these projects tend to establish continuity with the spirit of each small island of this archipelago.
The reflection framework proposed aims at reinforcing this bond with the spirit of the places. All the more solid and strong bond that traditional activities continue there to some extent: “the island” of the Citadel is for its greater part reserved for the harbour station of the ferries; the western point of the holy district Nicolas still includes dry docks still at work.
The parts released on a medium term basis will have to be converted into the logic of the typology of the existing docks, with low and linear buildings either recycled existing warehouses, or new buildings. Deprived of their industrial use, dedicated to activities closely related to the new vocation of the places, (a marina for the basin of the citadel for example or a nautical base at the end of the Holy district Nicolas), These places will be domesticated thanks to the insertion of a strong vegetable structure adopting the volumetry of the buildings, their linearity, their functional logic, their direct character and without affeteries. The conversion of the Citadel basin, its extension and its prolongation by the channel towards the La Barre basin to constitute a new marina from 300 to 600 rings can in the long term contribute to generate a set of activities directly related to leisure sailing, wintering, maintenance, ship chandlers, and dealer sailings. The presence of the ferries in the site is nevertheless welcome. They belong to its identity and they are a door towards England. They could be integrated into the new plan provided that only the activity of transport of passengers is maintained Otherwise, the plan will be extended on the whole site. Restaurants, discotheques and cafés, will take set up there logically. To facilitate the access of the pedestrians coming from the town center to the Citadel, a footbridge will be installed above the La Barre basin.
SEA DISCOVERY CENTER AND LONG TIME DEVELOPMENT
In response to the Aquatic Center, two massive blocks enclose the base of the sea discovery center tower on Antilles wharf. They contain part of the permanent exhibition the public forum, the administration, as well as the maintenance buildings of the center. From the wharf of the Vatine dock, in the alignment of restaurants and cafés of the Vauban docks, the entirely glazed entrance offers a total vision of the tower from bellow. This large canopy accommodates the hall, the cafeteria, the shop and the services in charge of the exhibition visit. The 120m high metal tower dominates the port of Le Havre. Two plates, one of 1200m² to 55 m and the other of 2000m² at 90 m, accommodate the temporary and permanent exhibitions and view point restaurant of the Center. The access is made through two panoramic elevators: one giving direct access to the temporary exhibition and the restaurant, the other forming an integral part of the permanent exhibition route. The amusement park on the topics of the sea and the environment of the estuary surrounds the Sea Discovery Center. Its initial surface is increased by the space liberated by the tower. It will be an additional resource while waiting for a future extension of the Center on the ground.
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