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Twisting concrete tower is a new landmark at the centre of French UNESCO World Heritage site

A 55-metre-tall residential tower, designed by architects Hamonic+Masson & Associés for client SOGEPROM, has just completed in Le Havre, France. Named Alta Tower, its twisting geometry and concrete frame make a bold and expressive statement at the heart of French architect Auguste Perret’s celebrated post World War II redevelopment of the city, close to Oscar Niemeyer’s curvaceous Le Volcan leisure centre.

The commission to design a new tower was awarded to Hamonic+Masson & Associés in 2015 following a competition including renowned architects Herzog & De Meuron and Rudy Ricciotti. Le Havre, France’s second most important port, was heavily bombed during the Second Word War. After the war architect Auguste Perret was commissioned to design a new city centre. The centre, rebuilt between 1945 and 1964, was designated in 2005 a UNESCO World Heritage site in recognition of Perret’s architectural vision and the modernist, innovative, meticulously detailed concrete city that emerged.

The competition brief called for a residential tower that would build on Perret’s celebrated reinvention of Le Havre, and link Niemeyer’s distinctively curvaceous concrete building with the strict modern grid of Perret’s urban plan. Perret’s original masterplan envisioned a residential tower for this site. Hamonic+Masson & Associés’s design sought to create a significant piece of contemporary architecture reflecting Perret’s vision for a city able to reinvent itself while maintaining a connection with its history.

Jean-Christophe Masson, Co-Founder and Director of Hamonic+Masson & Associés explains,

“Alta Tower is part of a city where heritage and modernity blend and feed off each other. It is rooted in the world architectural history of the 20th century and invents a new typology. Hamonic+Masson & Associés had to write a new score in keeping with the two sacred monsters. Alta Tower therefore combines the essential elements characteristic of each: the form and sensuality of Niemeyer, the grid and order of Perret, with concrete being the material common to all three projects.”

Alta Tower is at the junction of the two major urban grids of Perret’s general plan and is adjacent to Le Volcan. Its location, including its position between city and sea, inspired its distinctive character.  Its twisted morphology, marked by pivoting balconies and inclined posts, gives the building a unique expression more related to a work of art than a residential building.

The Alta Tower is the result of a strong architectural approach and inventive construction methods. Playing on the idea of movement, background and multiplicity, its volume accompanies the different scales of the city in an interplay of levels. This dynamic form in an ascending twist comes from the deformation of a frame (Perret) by a form (Niemeyer). The twisted geometry of the project is the building’s distinctive feature, a specific twisted morphology marked by pivoting balconies and inclined posts that give the building a unique character. It is also enriched by a reflection on the different building scales of the site, as well as the natural elements such as the wind and the sun.

The building comprises 64 apartments and a creche. Residents benefit from generous running balconies, with panoramic views across the city and the docks. The column free interiors can be configured on demand. This open plan layout, along with large pivoting balconies, gives residents freedom to customize their homes right from the design stage, including creating new layouts and joining single apartments together to make larger properties. The freedom and flexibility of living in Alta Tower demonstrates a new approach to vertical housing in an urban environment.

Edouard Philippe, the Mayor of Le Havre and a former Prime Minister of France, congratulated the project team at the inauguration of the building in December 2023. He said

“Le Havre is delighted with Alta Tower. It is a fine architectural feat, a beautiful object that makes people talk, that sometimes raises questions, and that catches the eye, and at the same time blends in well with the Le Havre landscape.”

Eric Groven, President of Sogeprom said:

“What an audacious masterpiece! Sogeprom has completed an exceptional residential project designed by Hamonic+Masson & Associés, a landmark in terms of design and construction, elegant, efficient and … complex to build. The building’s resolutely avant-garde architecture blends masterfully into the architecture of Le Havre. “Building the city on top of the city”, by replacing urban expansion with vertical density, makes a major contribution to the desartificialisation of land, and this programme is a concrete and living testimony to the promotion of environmental and social values.”

Alta Tower is a new landmark in the city and affirms the modernity which is characteristic of Le Havre’s skyline. It has been warmly received by the people of the city and is fast becoming a true icon of Le Havre.