Reconstruction planning after 1944/45

Reconstruction planning since the Second World War has been based on the ideas, lessons and experiences of the previous decades; in addition, it depends on political and social framework conditions and guidelines.

Two fundamentally different approaches have had a decisive influence on the range of urban planning and architecture in the post-war period: on the one hand, the traditionalist approaches, which propagate the image of the so-called European city of today which is easily recognisable (houses with sloping roofs, high density in the centre, but villas in the suburbs for the wealthy). On the other hand, there are the supporters of the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), who successfully disseminate their ideas of a broken-up city with lots of light, air, sun, and build houses with flat roofs without separating social classes. Their visions are based on statistical studies and parameters. All reconstruction plans tend to oscillate between these two poles.

Although both France and the GDR were governed centrally, reconstruction was organised differently. The Deutsche Bauakademie (German Building Academy) of the GDR, under strong political influence, took its cue from that of the USSR, but closely followed architectural events in Western Europe, especially in France. The reconstruction of Le Havre under the direction of Auguste Perret seemed exemplary from an organisational, urban planning, design and technical-constructional point of view.


Reconstruction in France was organised by the Ministry for reconstruction and urban planning (MRU), founded in 1944. The MRU exercised control over ownership and selected the architects and planners in charge of reconstruction. In May 1946, it defined the guidelines for the reconstruction, which, among other things, committed to modern urban planning rules, without setting stylistic requirements. The MRU was headed by Raoul Dautry (1944-1946) and Eugène Claudius-Petit (1948-1953), among others. In 1961, the reconstruction of Brest was essentially completed according to these guidelines.

Plan Mathon (The Mathon Plan)

Jean-Baptiste Mathon was appointed chief architect for the reconstruction project of Brest as early as 1943 by one of the former institutions of the MRU. The 1947 reconstruction plan named after him was inspired by the urban planning of Georges Milineau, the architect who had previously worked in Brest, and modern movements such as the CIAM. Mathon’s urban planning followed three principles: A town serving the state, a town opening up access to the sea, and a town which honoured its past. Mathon had the valleys of the city filled in with the rubble of the destroyed buildings and created an artificially raised level, which on the one hand improved connections within the town, but on the other hand further separated the town centre from the naval areas. The plan envisaged a grid-like street layout with two main axes: Rue de Siam, the main shopping street leading from the Penfeld to the new town centre and the town hall, and across it an axis from Marc Sagnier’s square via the Place Wilson to the courthouse where important public buildings and town centre squares were located. In order to better connect the town centre with its surrounding neighbourhoods, which were incorporated in 1944, the town centre and its new town hall were moved to Place de la Liberté. The requirements for a car-friendly town were met thanks to the construction of the Avenue Georges Clemenceau, a ring road that follows the former fortification, wider and hierarchised streets and a new bridge over the Penfeld.

6.1 Jean-Baptiste Mathon: Reconstruction and development plan, 1948 

The redivision of plots and its consequences

The Vichy regime had already introduced a law that prevented plot owners from rebuilding their destroyed buildings themselves. Together with the urban planning law, ” Charte de l’urbanisme “, which came into force on 15 June 1943 and which made a building permit compulsory, a repartition of the plots and a reconstruction in groups of plots was made possible. In order to carry out this project, the town council expropriated the landowners, redefined the plots and established the development plan. The new plots were assessed by the the syndical associations of reparcelling and redistributed among the landowners. House owners were often only allocated one flat within a building complex.

6.2 Excerpts from the MRU’s “Guiding Principles for Reconstruction”, May 1946 

6.3 Transversal axis: Banque de France – Place Wilson – Square Monseigneur Roull – Cité Administrative 


In the GDR, the Ministry of Construction was responsible for urban planning, new building methods and the training of women architects and civil engineers. In April 1950, a delegation of officials and architects travelled to Moscow. Subsequently, the “16 Points of Socialist Urbanism” were formulated, in which socialist reconstruction was defined, as well as the design commitment to “National Building Traditions”.

Here follows an excerpt from the 16 points of urban design:

Point 1 […] The city is in structure and architectural design an expression of the political life and national consciousness of the people.

Point 6 The centre forms the defining core of the city […] and is the political focus for the life of its population. […]

Point 9. The face of the city and its individual artistic form, is determined by squares, main streets and the dominant buildings in the centre of the city (in the largest cities by high-rise buildings). […]

In 1951, the Deutsche Bauakademie (German Building Academy) was founded in East Berlin.  Its purpose being to research urban planning and architecture, establish design and technical guidelines and publish documents on the subject.

Phases of reconstruction 

1945-1949 – First reconstruction plans 

As early as September 1945, guidelines for urban planning came into force, which were intended to prevent provisional building projects from hindering new planning schemes. 

In 1946, the competition for architectural ideas entitled “Das Neue Dresden” (The New Dresden) was held. 816 experts and laymen participated.

6.5 Hans Hopp, architect, Reconstruction project, 2.6.1945, inspired by Le Corbusier’s “Plan Voisin” for Paris, 1925 

6.6 Fritz Müller, graphic designer, contribution to the ideas competition “Das neue Dresden” 1946 

6.7 Mart Stam, head of the architecture department of the Dresden Art Academy, reconstruction project for the city centre, 1948 

1950-1954 – Building in the Style of National Traditions

On the basis of the GDR Building Law of September 1950, plot owners were expropriated without compensation and the inner city became communal property in order to gain the freedom needed to set up a new urban planning policy.

This was followed by the planning of three main urban axes; an east-west axis through the city centre, which became the new representative parade route, a south-north axis through the city centre and Neustadt, and a north-south axis leading east of the city centre past the town hall from the railway station to the Elbe. The focus was on representative public buildings and a development of the city centre in the style of socialist classicism. Only a few housing projects, such as in Grunaer Straße or at Altmarkt, were carried out during this phase.

From 1955 – “Better, cheaper, faster building” – standardisation, typification and industrialisation

The demands made at the All-Union Conference of the Soviet Union’s building industry in Moscow in 1954 to make building more economical were reflected in the first buildings from the end of the 1950s onwards. In France, it was possible to fall back on the Camus system, while in the GDR, a separate theory and practice of system building developed. This led from large block construction to industrialised prefabricated housing. The high point of this development in Dresden was the construction of Prager Straße 1963-1970, modelled on the reconstruction of the Lijnbaan in Rotterdam.