We set off to discover the architecture of the 50s in Royan. We fall under the spell of the colorful villas which make Royan a “fifties” town and give it its very particular retro atmosphere.

After the war, reconstruction

Crushed by a deluge of bombs at the end of World War II, Royan recovered after a phase of reconstruction of almost 20 years where architectural modernism has been softened with Charentais academicism and tropical shades imported from Brazil. This vast heritage of concrete from the 1950s can be read today in the vertical landscape of the seaside resort through a series of buildings listed as Historic Monuments such as the Protestant temple, the Villa Ombre Blanche or the Villa Hélianthe.

The steel hell that broke out on the "Pearl of the Ocean" in January and April 1945 wiped the slate clean of a time built on solid neo-classical and art-nouveau foundations of the Belle Epoque. Devastated by fire, the city center is nothing more than a huge blank page to be recomposed. The Ministry of Reconstruction and Urbanism entrusts this heavy task to Claude Ferret, director of studies at the Bordeaux School of Architecture, joined by his counterparts Louis Simon and André Morisseau. In an emergency context, the debate focused on the very nature of the site and on the advisability of adapting its design and aesthetics to the new canons of the time.

Should we redo everything identically or take a resolutely modernist path in order to build a city in tune with the times?

Royan, the most "50" city in France

The decision-makers then opted for a hybrid project, the first stage of which is illustrated in the façades of the Boulevard Aristide-Briand. The classic codes of the 30s join some avant-garde signs. This backbone, deployed between the central market and the seafront which naturally follows the coast and the Grande Conche, was inaugurated in 1951. In the meantime, the town planners of Royan drew inspiration from the architecture of the Brazilian School. They immerse themselves, for example, in the practical achievements within the Pampulha district of the Belo Horizonte seaside resort under the aegis by Oscar Niemeyer (himself inspired by Le Corbusier). From this influence will be born visual impressions and unprecedented graphic effects which give a particular relief to Royan and shape a strong image of tourism in Charente-Maritime.

The straight lines are rounded off and the airy feeling of lightness manifests itself in the use of pilings (Villa Boomerang, Pierre Marmouget 1955-1959, Villa Ombre Blanche, Claude Bonnefoy, 1959) and shaping spiral staircases without railings (Villa Le vent du large, Louis Simon, 1953). Colors bloom on buildings with roof terraces, loggias or awnings. The white facades are adorned with elements designed to promote a subtle play of shadow and light, full and empty. This creates a chic balance between design and sophistication materialized by sliding shutters, trellises, sunscreens and other glass blocks (Gantier building, André Morisseau, 1946-1961, Villa Grille-pain, Pierre Marmouget, Edouard Pinet, 1956).

Iconic places of the 50s

Several public buildings punctuate strolls through the streets of the seaside resort. We chose three but the list is far from exhaustive!

  • Le Central Market (André Morisseau, Louis Simon, René Sarger, Bernard Lafaille, 1955)

It is distinguished by its monolithic cover (50 meters span). According to interpretations, it evokes a parachute inflated by the wind or an overturned shell. It is a symbol of the rebirth of the city.

  • The Notre-Dame church (Guillaume Gillet, Bernard Lafaille, René Sarger, 1954-1958)

It is representative of modern religious architecture of which it is a masterpiece in France and even in Europe. This raw concrete monument takes the form of an extended prow of a bell tower which culminates 60 meters above the ground.

  • The convention center (Claude Ferret, 1958)

Classified as a Historic Monument in 2011, the Palais des Congrès presented itself at its inauguration as an aerial parallelepiped sitting on stilts. It is loosely inspired by the yacht club of Pampulha. Enlarged and restored over the following decades, the building lost its original exotic feel. Its recent renovation gives it back its “50” identity.

The guided tours de Royan allow you to discover all of these sites, accompanied by a tour guide.

Colorful accommodation to relive the 50s

Trois Holiday rents come together within the collective Club Royan 50 to promote 50s architecture:

  • Sky of Royan : apartment and duplex in a three-storey house. It was built between 1957 and 1961 in the Foncillon district
  • Clair Accueil: accommodation in the eponymous villa built in 1956 in Saint-Georges-de-Didonne
  • Le Tiki sunset: sea view apartment in the purest style of reconstruction, Parc district

To "dive" into a 50's atmosphere, you can also stay for one night in the hotel. The Thyrse Trident. Facing the sea and the beach, the hotel, most of whose furniture is period, takes us back 70 years.

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