A description of the city in which Jean Nouvel built his aquacentre is extremely important for an understanding of the ideas behind this project — given that Nouvel’s intention was to reflect as closely as possible what makes Le Havre unique. Incidentally, Les Bains de Docks is not the only building which Nouvel has designed in this city: his Sea and Sustainable Development Centre has recently been completed. Both complexes are part of an ambitious programme to reconstruct the port of Le Havre. The existing docks are to be converted to public functions with, in between them, new buildings that will serve as symbols of the district’s renewal.
The Sea and Sustainable Development Centre — with its 100-metre tower housing a weather station and a panoramic restaurant — is undoubtedly one of these image-oriented projects. As for the aquacentre, its exterior shape is understated and even lapidary. Its main architectural attractions are in the interiors and in the radical rethinking of the very genre of the public pool and spa complex.
So, seen from the outside, Les Bains de Docks is a rectangular, low, parallelepiped occupying a relatively large piece of land. It is clad in square panels of steel that have been painted a dark-grey colour of the kind known as ‘anthracite’ or ‘wet asphalt’, and this is Nouvel’s answer to a city that has been built from concrete. Both through its colour and, of course, its emphasis on geometry, the aquacentre takes up and develops the theme of Modernism which has shaped Le Havre’s distinctive character. The only façade decoration consists of rectangular windows of different sizes and proportions scattered chaotically over the dark-grey surfaces. Moreover, some window apertures have been filled with standard glazing units, while others are deep niches through which we glimpse a dazzlingly white interior.
Aquatic centre «Les Bain des Docks» Main entrance © Roland Halbe
Wading pool © Philippe Ruault
Interior views of the aquatic complex © Philippe Ruault
Main image: © Philippe Ruault