Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, May 20, 2019

Rebuilding St. Quentin

Postwar Damage to Basilica and Surrounding Neighborhood

Saint Quentin represents a city which suffered considerable damage in World War One but survived, recognizably, as the shell of an important industrial center; occupied throughout the war, and located on the front line after the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line in 1917, it suffered severely. By the end of the war, over 70 percent of Saint-Quentin, occupied from August 1914 to September 1918 by the German Army, had been destroyed. The town was rebuilt during the 1920s. 

Devastation After German Forces Abandoned the City

The civilian population returned to a skeleton of their home town, lacking all its factory equipment, stocks, a considerable number of buildings and virtually all private property, with many of the buildings roofless or grossly damaged—as a living community it had ceased to exist and needed to reconstruct its activity, community existence, and productivity from zero. Some of the ruined buildings could be restored, while others must be pulled down to start again. This was a case of restoration, fitting new buildings into old streets or squares and inserting individual features, with the original street patterns and buildings clearly visible even if needing complete restoration. 

Residential Street with Some New Art Deco Structures and
Surviving Pre-WWI Buildings

After the First World War, architect Louis Guindez convinced the city fathers to adopt the Art Deco style of design wherever possible. Consequently, St. Quentin considers itself the world's first Art Deco city and the style is still widely visible in the city, once you start looking—horizontal lines, large windows, decorative mosaic work, reinforced concrete. The train station is a leading example of this approach.

Art Deco Train Station

An example of church with an interesting historical background—St. Quentin was once a center of Huguenot activity—and whose restoration followed the design guidelines is the Eglise protestante unie de France. Originally a monastery stood on the site, founded by Marie de Medici, with its buildings used as an emergency medical post in the 1870–71 war, then completely destroyed in the fighting in 1917–18, it was rebuilt as a Protestant church after 1918 with funds from American Protestant churches.

The Rebuilt Protestant Church

Source: Helen McPhail, "Picking up the Pieces: Rebuilding Northern France after the First World War," Journal of the Centre for First World War Studies, vol. 1(2004)

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