Divine Intervention: Should a Design Competition Be the Solution for Notre-Dame?

“Oh fuck Christianity and fuck Jesus!” 😀

We want something to symbolise the ‘Sun God’ THE ACTUAL SUN!!! Something to signify the entering of the Age of Aquarius… something for children?… something to educate children on nature and the natural world… not to be brainwashed into a 2000 year old cult.

Did Quasimodo predict the fire of Nostradamus in one of his books? 😀

Divine Intervention: Should a Design Competition Be the Solution for Notre-Dame?

Anna Fixsen,Architectural DigestApril 25, 2019

Illustration by Yakovliev/Getty Images

Just 10 days have elapsed since the world watched in horror as the Notre-Dame cathedral succumbed to a devastating fire in Paris. Though the flames were extinguished and significant portions of the structure were saved, the inferno inadvertently ignited another blaze—the debate surrounding its fate.

This was spurred by a flood of donations toward the monument’s preservation (already surpassing some $1 billion) and a proclamation from French President Emmanuel Macron that the cathedral’s spire and cruciform roof would be rebuilt “more beautiful than before.” The catch? The reconstruction would be completed in five years.

French officials subsequently announced an international competition to rebuild Notre-Dame’s spire, the result of a 19th-century renovation spearheaded by French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Though the five-year timeframe has faced intense scrutiny and a formal RFP has yet to be announced, architects, designers, and artists are already declaring their participation. Journalists, too, are fueling the hype: An artist’s depiction of a crystal-spired scheme, first published by the London Times, was erroneously attributed to Foster + Partners by other outlets.

So what is the best way forward? AD PRO reached out to several notable figures in the architecture and preservation community to get their thoughts on next steps.

Barry Bergdoll, architectural historian

“No sooner had the fire been extinguished by a heroic and strategically savvy firefighting force than the air around Notre-Dame was filled with political smoke. Emmanuel Macron abruptly announced an architectural competition to imagine a new design for the cathedral’s spire, and thus its profile in the city, without thinking of its aesthetic grounding or political consequences. One of the most beloved religious buildings on the planet is now in critical condition as commentators and even architects seem intent on waving their arms around the patient without having the patience to await an expert diagnosis.

“The first order of business should be roofing the exposed vaults and finding and surveying the fabric of a building composed of stone and mortar that has been exposed to intense heat. We don’t even know just how fragile the free-standing transept wall silhouetted against the sky without roof or a critical vaulted bay is, or the state of the mortar in the vaults still in place.

“And yet architects, whose own reputation in the wake of a generation of starchitects is not at its high point, are rushing in like ambulance chasers, publishing images in full ignorance of the structural reality of a cherished historic monument.

Commentators and even architects seem intent on waving their arms around the patient without having the patience to await an expert diagnosis.

“Designing the ‘look’ of a 21st-century Gothic cathedral has taken over the debate when a diagnosis of how to save the 13th-to-19th-century fabric of the building will take months—if not years—to establish. Viollet-le-Duc’s integral presence in the cathedral might be blithely discarded; the nature of light to the Gothic aesthetic might be negated with a glass roof sitting atop a structure whose health is in serious question. And who ever heard of a competition in which the proposals were published the day after the announcement, without waiting even for the deadline. Rushing in with instant prognoses or signature solutions, rather than attention to the emergency at hand, seems to me unseemly.”

Thierry Despont, founder, Thierry Despont Ltd.

“Of course Notre Dame should be rebuilt. Original parts such as the extraordinary wood frame of the roof ‘la forêt’ should be rebuilt as it was, and France has the most skilled artisans to do so.

“Other parts such as ‘la flèche,’ the steeple, can or could be reinterpreted, as it was a 19th-century invention of Violet-le-Duc, and it is a legitimate debate as to what is the life of a historic building—frozen in time or alive? [As poet Paul Valéry wrote], ‘Let me hear the melody of a monument.’”

Odile Decq, founder, Studio Odile Decq

“Notre-Dame is a strong and important monument, not only for Paris but also for France. It is the zero point for all of the kilometer markers on the roads to Paris; this is the real center of the city! It is a symbolic place where the biggest events in our history have taken place, such as the Liberation of Paris after World War II, the Coronation of Napoleon, Charles de Gaulle’s funeral, and its largest bell, le bourdon, that rings for specific occasions like the terrorist attacks in 2015 or more recently in Nice. This is why Notre-Dame cathedral is not only a religious monument but also a civic monument for everyone of France.

“I strongly believe that we have to rebuild what has disappeared in the fire…but I don’t believe we have to rebuild it exactly the same way as before. The reason is the fact that a monument is alive! This one has already experienced renovations, transformations, and some additions throughout its long lifetime; first from Pagan to Roman, and then from Roman to Gothic. The last important one was by the architect Viollet-le-Duc at the half of the 19th century after the monument had been totally neglected from the Revolution, thanks to Victor Hugo. The architect had reinvented the Gothic cathedral in a way or, more precisely, he had created his own vision of Gothic. He said himself, ‘When you restore a monument it is not to maintain it, to repair it, or to rebuilt it. It is to reestablish it to a complete state that could have never existed before.’

“So, why would we need to re-create the same today? Are we too conservative now? As I wrote 10 years ago, ‘Today, we are obsessed with the idea of facing perils of any kind. Natural caution and excessive prudence are resulting in a state of heightened fear.’ The worst is when someone prefers to maintain the stigma of the fire somewhere in the monument. I don’t know anyone who likes to exhibit his or her scars after an accident!

Why would we need to re-create the same today? Are we too conservative now?

“After this long preamble, I will enter the competition. I will look at the best contemporary innovations on materials that could be at the same time solid, strong, and super light. I will find the best engineers to work with and we will propose a durable contemporary needle for our Old Lady, who deserves to live long again. In addition, I will propose to also rebuild the carpentry of the roof in steel, in order to provide a new space inside it that couldn’t exist before with the historic wooden structure. This is a fantastic challenge that needs to be accomplished!”

Jean-Louis Cohen, architectural historian

“Once the damage suffered by Notre-Dame will have been thoroughly documented, a strategy will have to be drawn for the cathedral’s future. Now that the financial needs are covered by an unprecedented deluge of money, the main issue will be to reach a consensus on the state of the building which will be re-created.

“Viollet-le-Duc, who orchestrated the 19th-century renaissance of the church, famously said that restoration was not about ‘restoring the building in its original condition’ but in ‘an ideal state it might very well never have known.’ Is the French [government], which is in control of all the levers, to decide on restoring a hypothetical 13th-century state—the state which resulted from Viollet-le-Duc’s labors? Or [is it to] open the door to innovative form using novel technologies, in particular in lieu of combustible timber?

“Personally, I would be opposed to the complete erasure of the 19th-century state, with all its archeologically incorrect romanticism, as it has since been part of the edifice’s legend.”

Lord Norman Foster, founder, Foster + Partners

In a statement: “Notre Dame de Paris is the ultimate high-technology monument of its day in terms of Gothic engineering. Like many cathedrals, its history is one of change and renewal over the centuries.

“The spire that was destroyed in the tragic fire of this week dates back to 1844 and was the result of a competition won by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc following the desecrations of the French Revolution. This replaced the original spire, which was taken down in 1786.

“Over the centuries, the roofs of medieval cathedrals have been ravaged by fires and replaced—for example, Chartres in 1194 and 1836, Metz in 1877. In every case, the replacement used the most advanced building technology of the age—it never replicated the original. In Chartres, the 12th-century timbers were replaced in the 19th century by a new structure of cast iron and copper.

“The decision to hold a competition for the rebuilding of Notre Dame is to be applauded because it is an acknowledgement of that tradition of new interventions and a pledge for its continuation. Otherwise, if the decision was to merely replicate the past, then it would be pointless to hold a competition.

The decision to hold a competition for the rebuilding of Notre Dame is to be applauded because it is an acknowledgement of that tradition of new interventions and a pledge for its continuation. Otherwise, if the decision was to merely replicate the past then it would be pointless to hold a competition.

“As an aside, the roof that has been destroyed had wooden frames—each was made from an individual oak tree—1,300 in total. Hence its nickname of ‘the Forest.’ It was rarely visited, so, surely, this is an opportunity to re-create a once hidden—and now destroyed—timber structure with a modern, fireproof, lightweight replacement.

“The ideal outcome would be a respectful combination of the dominant old with the best of the new. France has an enviable reputation for the realization of Grand Projects. Given this background, there is no reason why President Macron’s optimistic commitment cannot be achieved: ‘We’ll rebuild Notre Dame even more beautifully, and I want it to be completed in five years. We can do it.’”

Pierre Yovanovitch, founder, Pierre Yovanovitch Architecture d’Intérieur

“I was overwhelmed by the sense of loss that we all felt while Notre-Dame was burning. Beyond its beauty, the cathedral represents a lot of what is sacred in our society regardless of religion. To me, it is essential to rebuild and to regain as much of what has been lost as possible. It does not necessarily mean that the rebuilding should be identical. I think that the roof should be rebuild identical because it was part of the original cathedral and that we should consider something new for the spire, which was added in the 19th century. Something very simple, contemporary. It should be designed by a young architect who would respect the building and the tradition of which it is the expression.”

Notre Dame reborn…as a GREENHOUSE: French architects propose replacing cathedral’s damaged roof with glass and filling it with plants

  • French architects unveiled the plans to build a giant greenhouse at Notre Dame 
  • Design would also include an apiary, which would replace the destroyed spire
  • The studio says that the concept would be a homage to the importance of nature 

By Danyal Hussain For Mailonline

French architects have revealed a stunning set of plans to redesign the Notre Dame Cathedral’s fire-ravaged roof as a greenhouse. 

The proposal was shared after French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe proposed ‘an international architecture competition’ to rebuild the iconic cathedral’s spire which was completely destroyed in the fast-spreading blaze on April 15.   

Prime Minister Philippe shared his wish that the cathedral should be ‘adapted to issues of our time’ and architects Studio NAB have come with the concept of turning the damaged roof into a giant greenhouse as a homage to the importance of nature.

The French studio showed off its design, which comes with an apiary that takes the place of the spire.

French firm Studio NAB said that it wanted to look at the redesign of Notre Dame as a question of environmental, educational and social integration

French firm Studio NAB said that it wanted to look at the redesign of Notre Dame as a question of environmental, educational and social integration

This will house the 180,000 or so bees that survived the fire.

Design photos show the greenhouse perched on top of the church, complete with a golden-hued steel frame filled with glass panels.

Inside, there would be rows of planters built from that burnt wood in the old church’s attic. 

They envisage that the greenhouse and apiary would act as an education hub where people can learn about horticulture and urban agriculture.

Studio NAB said that it wanted to look at the redesign of Notre Dame as a question of environmental, educational and social integration.

The firm plans to replace the church's damaged roof with a glass greenhouse, before filling it with plants

The firm plans to replace the church’s damaged roof with a glass greenhouse, before filling it with plants

The plans said: ‘On this fire and in the period of crisis that the country and the world are currently going through, we are lucky to build a place of reference where conservation, enrichment of an exceptional heritage and taking into account societal challenges in ecology and equal opportunities.

‘Protecting the living, reintroducing biodiversity, educating consciences and being social, are all symbols, faithful to the values of France and those of the church, that we could defend and promote for this project.’ 

President Emmanuel Macron pledged last week that the cathedral would be rebuilt in five years. 

The unveiling of the plans comes just days after the contractor renovating Notre Dame admitted that scaffolders flouted a smoking ban during works – but denied it caused the devastating blaze.

Scaffolding company Le Bras Freres had a strict smoking ban, but the height of the steeple and the time it took to come down to ground level meant some ignored it.

The cathedral's destroyed spire would also be replaced by an apiary to house the 180,000 or so bees that survived the blaze

The cathedral’s destroyed spire would also be replaced by an apiary to house the 180,000 or so bees that survived the blaze

Workers were attempting a major renovation on the steeple to restore its lead covering and joints.

Notre-Dame’s now mostly-destroyed roof was made of wood, and included some of the original beams erected in the 12th century.’There were colleagues who from time to time broke the rules and we regret it,’ a spokesman for scaffolding company Le Bras Freres told AFP, before adding: ‘In no way could a cigarette butt be the cause of the fire at Notre-Dame.’

Notre Dame: experts explain why Macron’s five-year restoration deadline is impossible

Complex conservation issues mean it could easily take a decade or more to rebuild the Medieval cathedral

Hannah McGivern and Nancy Kenney26th April 2019 10:54 BSTMore

Debris inside Notre Dame after the catastrophic fire; the rose window appears to be intact, but the glass may have suffered from micro-cracks, requiring time-consuming repairs

Debris inside Notre Dame after the catastrophic fire; the rose window appears to be intact, but the glass may have suffered from micro-cracks, requiring time-consuming repairs Photo: Bastien Louvet/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock; © 2019 Shutterstock

Heritage experts warn that restoring Notre Dame de Paris after the devastating fire of 15 April will be so complex that it could take a decade or more, despite President Emmanuel Macron’s vow to “rebuild the cathedral more beautiful than ever” within five years.

With the entirety of the cathedral’s treasure of religious objects and most of its works of art safely evacuated and transferred to the Musée du Louvre for treatment, workers rushed to shore up the parts of the Gothic building at highest risk of collapse in the days after the blaze. Their efforts led the culture minister Franck Riester to declare on 20 April that Notre Dame was “almost saved”.

But the great unknown remains the stability of the cathedral’s stone vaults, which were exposed to searing heat for hours as an inferno raged through the lattice of oak roof beams in the attic above, known as “the forest”. The fire consumed the wooden central spire and three-quarters of the roof, leaving three gaping holes in the vaulted ceiling.

Engineers and scientists will need to test whether the stones were permanently weakened by the heat of the blaze, followed by the shock of the cold water used by firefighters. “Limestone can lose about 75% of its strength when it’s exposed to heat over 600ºC,” says George Wheeler, a leading expert in stone conservation. “And that fire certainly exceeded 600ºC in many locations.”

Once the debris inside the cathedral has been cleared for forensic analysis, specialists can mount scaffolding to conduct systematic ultrasonic pulse velocity tests, “pinging” the stones and listening to the reverberations to detect potential areas of weakness. Ground-penetrating radar can also be used to identify voids and cavities.

Conservators around the world are also waiting in suspense for word on the condition of Notre Dame’s three 13th-century stained-glass rose windows. Although they appear to be intact, their lofty position could have exposed them to extreme heat—“a high risk for the glass but also for the cames, the connecting lead frame”, says Hannelore Roemich, a conservation scientist at New York University. “I don’t feel optimistic until someone is up there with a magnifying glass.”

The combination of heat and rapid cooling can cause micro-cracks in the glass, says Sarah Brown, the director of the York Glaziers Trust. In this case, each of the hundreds of panels at Notre Dame would need to be carefully chipped out of the masonry and individually repaired. The process is “very time-consuming and potentially very costly”, Brown says, although there are fortunately “very good historical records of the windows” in the Corpus Vitrearum stained-glass archive. Soot can be removed in a careful workshop cleaning, Roemich adds.

Another immediate priority must be the removal of the “several thousands of tonnes of water in the building”, says Richard Carr-Archer, a trustee of the UK’s National Churches Trust and a veteran cathedral architect who worked on the reconstruction of York Minster after the fire by lightning strike there in 1984. The water that firefighters pumped into Notre Dame is arguably worse than the historic destruction wrought by fire at Chartres and Reims cathedrals, says the architectural historian Alexandre Gady, because it “will create work [for restorers] for months and maybe years, by infiltrating the ancient mortar and causing mould”.

Andrew Arrol, the current surveyor of the fabric of York Minster, estimates that devising a detailed plan for the restoration of Notre Dame “could easily take two years” alone. An “enormous amount of survey work” will be needed simply to understand how the loss of roof timbers has affected the “complex system of loading patterns” that supported the building for 800 years, he says.

Opinion divided

The daunting prospect of replicating the cathedral’s “forest”—roof timbers made of 1,300 oak trees that were as much as 400 years old when they were felled in the 12th and 13th centuries—has sharply divided opinion in France. Rémi Desalbres, the president of France’s association of heritage architects, refutes the theory that the wooden roof frame could be replaced by a lighter structure, perhaps in iron, like at Chartres, or reinforced concrete, as was used at Reims after the First World War. “The weight has its importance,” he says, adding that any decision to deviate from the original material would be viewed as a “betrayal” by French preservationists.

Desalbres also dismisses concerns that France lacks the old-growth wood to restore the roof as it was, citing “generous donors” such as the insurance firm Groupama, which has pledged 1,300 oak trees from the forests it owns in Normandy. As for the carpenters, “there are many qualified artisans and companies working on historic monuments across France” who are ready to collaborate and maintain the 800-year-old “living heritage” of cathedral-building, he says.

Any decision to deviate from the original material would be viewed as a “betrayal”

There is an “educational opportunity” to train new artisans in the woodworking and masonry techniques needed for Notre-Dame, agrees the director of the Paris-based Unesco World Heritage Centre, Mechtild Rossler. Unesco and a coalition of German and Swiss master builders have offered their technical expertise to the French authorities, she says. Macron’s government has already launched a programme to recruit young apprentices into specialist art trades in a bid to meet the president’s five-year timescale for the reconstruction.

But even with the manpower and materials assured, “you could argue about the conservation issues forever”, Richard Carr-Archer says. The debate in France is “extremely emotional because this symbolic monument has been destroyed—it’s not the same as a restoration campaign”, says Roland May, the head of the French branch of the International Institute for Conservation.

Controversy over the government’s architectural competition for a new spire “adapted to the techniques and challenges of our time”—launched two days after the 19th-century spire designed by Viollet-le-Duc dramatically collapsed in the fire—is threatening to blow up into “another conflict like the Louvre pyramid” in the 1980s, says the art historian Jean-Michel Leniaud.

Finding a consensus between the “ancients and moderns”, Christians and secularists “will be extremely difficult”, he says, although the practicalities are “simplified” by Macron’s political commitment and the international outpouring of donations, which topped €1bn days after the disaster. The French president quickly named a special representative to lead the reconstruction efforts: Jean-Louis Georgelin, a retired army general and Catholic known to have worshipped at Notre Dame.

But Georgelin’s surprise appointment and the gung-ho spire competition has experts worried that Macron is “bypassing” the usual procedures that govern major restorations in his rush to reopen the monument for the Paris Olympic Games in 2024, Alexandre Gady says. On 24 April, the French council of ministers announced an exceptional draft law for the administration and funding of Notre Dame’s reconstruction. The proposals include a 66% tax break for donations over €1,000 made before 31 December 2019, the creation of a new public body to manage the process and “where necessary, exemptions or adaptations” to urban planning, environmental protection and heritage preservation regulations.

The only certainty is that the restoration will be “very long and delicate, and we absolutely can’t say it will take four, five or ten years”, Gady says. “The president should have said we will do it as well as we can, not as fast. It is the monument that commands—we must obey.”

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