20th century architecture

The start of the century was marked by the installation of several large industries, which led to the town’s rapid development. The largest was the Société Métallurgique de Normandie, founded in 1912 in the municipalities of Mondeville and Colombelles, and which, after the First World War, formed a large working-class estate offering a range of services (schools, shops, public baths). Estates were also built by the Office des Habitations in Bon Marché du Calvados in order to accommodate low-income households.


Urban development also favoured the wealthier classes, with, for example, the creation of Nice Caennais Garden City. New facilities were built in the centre: a high school for girls, a new post office, a spectacular art-deco style dressed stone monument (by the architect Pierre Chirol), and a reinforced concrete bus station. But, the main building works between the two wars concerned public health facilities and included a cover for the rivers which pass through the town and the creation of a water and sewage network.  


Although relatively undamaged during the Occupation, Caen found itself on the frontline of the D-Day landings in June 1944. As the main obstacle preventing Allied troops from advancing, the town was laid siege to and was bombed for more than a month. When it was liberated on 19 July, more than half of the town centre had been destroyed. For many long years, the inhabitants of Caen had to make do with temporary accommodation. One particular emergency construction project in the first post-war years was the Saint-Paul neighbourhood, distinguished for its quality. There are several types of houses, French (with stone recovered from the wreckage), American (prefabricated), Finnish. Swedish houses in wood were also built there.


They were part of a donation received by the Calvados Department from the Swedish Government in 1947.






The final reconstruction, supervised by the Ministry of Reconstruction and Town Planning (MRU) and financed by the State, was entrusted to the architect Marc Brillaud de Laujardière. His project redesigned and reorganised the town centre, but respected its historical logic. Avenue du 6 Juin, which divides Rue Saint-Jean was the backbone of Reconstruction. A symbolic road over more than a kilometre long, it connects the railway station and the University. It is punctuated by a series of towers which mark the entrance to the town centre. At its centre, the garden of the Place de la Résistance provides the setting for Saint-Jean Church, the main monument in the neighbourhood.

The entrances to the residences are decorated with outstanding bas-reliefs which recall the traditional trades on Ile Saint-Jean.



During reconstruction, the buildings became increasingly modern, for example, the Tours-Marines on Avenue du 6 Juin, or the Quatrans at the foot of the castle. Reconstruction also led to several experiments with volume, light and techniques. But, the initial decision to use limestone was never questioned. Reconstruction also provided the opportunity to offer the town some new monuments: Saint-Julien church (by the architect Henry Bernard), the Benedictine monastery (by the architects Marcel Clot and Jean Zunz). But, the most important one was the University, built by Henry Bernard. The first “campus” in France, it brings together all the faculties and student services on a vast stretch of 30-hectare landscaped grounds.  


In the 1950s, the first large development projects were designed to cater for the population increase and the lack of housing. The first was the Guérinière neighbourhood in 1954. The residences were in dressed stone and the spectacular shapes of the concrete water tower (listed as a historic monument in 2011), were commissioned from the architect, Guillaume Gillet.


In 1962, construction work started on a new town in the suburbs. Hérouville-Saint-Clair, situated northwest of Caen, is now the second town in Calvados with 24,000 inhabitants. Built according to an innovative layout, the town is organised into neighbourhoods separated by access roads. The town was completed in the 1980s, with the construction of the town centre neighbourhood: the Citadelle Douce (by the architect Eugène Leseney), of organic inspiration, organises the town centre around the town hall, the theatre and the houses.  


At the same time, with declining economic and demographic trends, the earlier period of extensive town planning came under fierce criticism. The aim was to find solutions to improve the suburbs and revitalise town centres. Today, Hérouville’s town planning has been completely reviewed and many new buildings bear witness to its new vitality.

Rehabilitation operations are underway in the Guérinière and Grâce de Dieu neighbourhoods. Large construction sites have also been launched in the centre of Caen: the Rives de l’Orne operation, which includes housing and shops, replaces an old railway area. Just a short walk from the town centre, it will soon bring new life to the right bank. In the same sector, a project is underway to redevelop the industrial wasteland of the Presqu’île. Finally, ancient heritage has not been forgotten with the pedestrianisation of Place Saint-Sauveur and the restoration of the Dukes' Palace, near the Abbaye-aux-Hommes.

(according to the map-guide 20th Century Architecture, Caen and its urban area. Published by the CAUE, Architecture, Town Planning and Environment Council of Calvados and the Junior Economic Chamber. According to the texts and C.Pitrou J.Munerel. Texts P. Gourbin)