18,311: this is number of tons of Allied bombs dropped over Normandy between 5 and 6 June 1944. Bomb disposal was therefore imperative before reconstruction could begin. This took two years to carry out. And during that time, until more “permanent” housing could be provided, the population were accommodated in wooden barracks delivered in kit form. These temporary huts were donated by the international community, including the United States, Switzerland, Canada and Sweden. Saint-Lô, Capital of Ruins, is an example of this architectural period.

Saint-Lô: “Capital of Ruins”

On 10 June 1946, Samuel Becket, serving the Red Cross in Saint-Lô, would write a short piece entitled “The Capital of the Ruins”. One of its powerful descriptive passages reads as follows: “… Saint-Lô was bombed out of existence in one night
….”. And indeed, the “night of fire”, from 6 to 7 June, wreaked enormous damage on the town. Remaining under enemy fire until 24 July, by the end of the war 95% of Saint-Lô had been destroyed. This “capital of ruins” alone paints a stark picture of the intensity of the bombing and the sheer size of the reconstruction task that lay ahead. Saint-Lô was arguably the hardest-hit town, but other municipalities in the Manche département also suffered. More than three-quarters of the towns of Coutances, Valognes and Mortain for example were also ravaged.

Sustainable reconstruction

When the bomb disposal operations were finally completed, it was time to embark on reconstruction. In 1946 achitects began working on new residential blocks. One of the priorities for these new buildings was the light. Among the postwar builders was Marcel Mersier, the architect behind the reconstruction of Saint-Lô. His efforts gave rise to the La Ferronnière residence, the curved building in Rue Toustain-de-Billy. He also built the Roger-Ferdinand Theatre and Sainte-Croix Church bell tower.