Jean-Baptiste Mathon, Rue de Siam, les Portiques, Brest, watercolour drawing, 1948, original lost, photo coll. part.

This drawing by Jean-Baptiste Mathon, the architect in charge of Brest’s reconstruction plan, shows a view of the Rue de Siam from the porticoes of the buildings that border it. It gives a fairly accurate idea of the aesthetic bias of reconstruction in Brest.

Mathon imagined Brest as a white city where air and light abound. In order to limit the architectural diversity caused by compensation procedures for the disaster victims, he chose to monumentalise key places in the city. His buildings are orderly and of imposing size; their ground floors are treated like verandas with streamlined pillars; their smooth facades have vertical openings; the top floor is recessed above a cornice. It is an elegant world of straight lines, repetition and symmetry. Modernity rubbing shoulders with tradition.

Mathon’s urban vision has neither the radicalism of a Le Corbusier, nor the nostalgia of those who would have liked to see the city rebuilt “as it was”. To his mind, Brest had to seize its chance to be rebuilt in a way that was more in tune with its time. Yet this drawing that Mathon (Prix de Rome in 1923) conceived for Brest, offers atmosphere and perspective in line with the ideal cities imagined by Renaissance painters…

Sonia de Puineuf