Mailly’s project for Toulon: a story about modernity
Jean de Mailly receives very strict instructions from the M.R.U. and the sites commission for the development of the new project:
- Reducing the time needed to rebuild the waterfront, as the victims have been waiting three years for work to begin. - Limit expropriations. - Create a new crossing on the edge of the city centre in a west-east direction by making inroads into the sea. - Provide for the creation of the new Port-Marchand district. - The view of the harbour is preferred in buildings. - Maintain the position of the town hall of honour on the quay (administrative services may be located in an annex building) which will have to keep its function of walking.
To respond to this program, de Mailly has renewed the team of operation architects set up by Madeline: Gaston Petit, Lucien Barbé, Maurice Leclercq, Guy Malenfant, Jacques Berthelot, Henri Bertrand-Arnoux, Jules Roustan, Bernard Noël, Jacques Le Barbe, and chose as deputy architect, a former classmate, the Var architect Serge Mikélian, Grand Prix of Rome, whom he charged with the development of the district of Port-Marchand.
While meeting the requirements of the M.R.U., the team proposes an innovative project applying the avant-garde principles issued by the International Congress of Modern Architecture (C.I.A.M.) for the creation of new neighborhoods, while taking care not to upset the old urban structure of the city center.
The new district of Port-Marchand
It is organized according to the new principles of aeration of the urban fabric from the Athens Charter. Mikélian creates a set of buildings, formed of towers and bars detached from the street alignment and implanted freely according to the sunshine and the orientation of the prevailing winds. In its original project, the architect planned to set up buildings on the edge of artificial streams connected to the sea, thus creating a marina.
The reconstruction of the port
South of the old centre, de Mailly widened to twenty meters the old street of the Republic which was only eight. This new avenue, wide and straight, qualified in the project of "future great tourist boulevard" was to be unified and aerated by the removal of the old blocks of buildings, located on the north side, replaced by new buildings, similar to those of the Frontal. At the centre of these was planned the development of a square with a regular layout that opened to the east on a monumental tower of twenty-four floors, comprising, in the lower part, the municipal administrative center, then in the center, floors of luxury apartments, and in the upper part, a prestigious hotel. Opposite, on the south side, the town hall of honour, rebuilt at its original location on the quay, was to be connected to the administrative centre by a covered walkway, arranged above the avenue, which also made it possible to break the linear perspective of this breakthrough.
This ambitious project, brought down to the scale of the city’s budget, was not fully implemented.
From its presentation, this project is praised by the profession as an exemplary success for the French Reconstruction, because it synthesizes the great urban and architectural aspirations encouraged by the M.R.U. Thanks to the innovative proposals put forward by de Mailly and Mikélian, the city of Toulon was considered a model of urban and architectural success in the 1950s.
In 1951, at the Salon des arts ménagers, a national showcase of technical innovations, as part of the exhibition on housing organized by the M.R.U., Toulon is the flagship achievement of the moment next to the Maison Coque, designed by engineer Jean Prouvé and the reconstruction of Le Havre, by Auguste Perret (the latter sector has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2005). A full-size model, presented asToulon Housing Unit, in reference to that of Le Corbusier for Marseille presented a year earlier in the same living room, reproduced on three levels a fragment of building including a ground floor, a mezzanine and a floor.
Inside, the Parisian public can visit an apartment entirely furnished by emblematic artists and decorators of the Modern Movement, all members of the Union of Modern Artists (U.A.M.). Charlotte Perriand (who has just also collaborated on the development of the apartments of the Marseille Housing Unit) designed the furniture of the dining room and living room in collaboration with Pierre Jeanneret, cousin of Le Corbusier; on the wall is presented The Dance of Fernand Léger, dated 1942; the lights and the school office with his chair are by Jean Prouvé.
In keeping with the progressive values in terms of housing comfort brought by de Mailly in her buildings, Charlotte Perriand offers functional furniture with simplified shapes and no decor. This set designed in a modern, frank and bright style reveals "a new way of living". In a shop restored on the ground floor, is presented the model of the global project of de Mailly and Mikélian for the reconstruction of Toulon, as well as a model of the future monumental tower of the administrative center connected to the town hall of honor.
This masterful production of the project testifies to the national impact of the reconstruction of Toulon in the 1950s. By succeeding in the synthesis between mass housing and household comfort, de Mailly made Toulon the laboratory of modernity. In the same year, 1951, this project received the Grand Prix d'Honneur at the Triennale de Milan, an exceptional award, the only one obtained by France at this international architecture fair. Subsequently, this project will be disseminated by numerous French and foreign architecture magazines.