Notre Dame Cathedral, which has seen and survived two world wars and is considered as an embodiment of permanence, has been turned into ashes. Paris is slowly crawling back to normalcy and is learning to live without her the symbol of the beauty and history. As police attempt to piece together how the centuries-old world heritage site went up in flames the government has started thinking in terms of what next. The French president, Emmanuel Macron has vowed that the cathedral would be rebuilt by bringing the best talents from around the world to reconstruct the building in its entirety. Though the President was echoing the mind of thousands of French, doubts have already been raised whether the past glory of this this 12th century architectural marvel could be revived.
Soon after the Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, announced an international competition for a spire to replace the one designed by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc that was destroyed, proposals have started pouring in, but many of them are merely artistic responses to the shock of the fire. While majority of the French people and politicians want the restoration of the spire in its original form, some of the renderings submitted are nothing but bizarre and more so with their justifications. For example, the proposal from Mathieu Lehanneur suggests a 300-foot spire ‘flame’ rendered in carbon-fiber and gold leaf. According to the renderer it’s absurd to attempt to rebuild the spire as it was in the 19th century. Indeed he later on justified his rendering saying that flame is a strong symbol in Bible which others consider just as an afterthought of the architect.
Mimicking old image of the Notre Dame and rebuilding it today is easier said than done. As French architectural firm Vincent Callebaut puts it, “For it is hardly enough to reproduce the past as it used to be; we must project ourselves towards a desirable future, conveying to the world the thirst for transcendence that propels human beings.” The architectural firm has offered “Palingenesis project” which in Greek means “rebirth”, “regeneration” and has presented a massive stain-glassed spire and greenhouse system which would generate clean energy for the cathedral. Constructed with cross laminated timber beams pre-stressed with carbon fiber slats, the new oak frame seeks to use the minimum amount of material to ensure a low-carbon footprint while offering the greatest transparency to the cathedral. “Transparency, sharing and openness to our society’s development: such are the ideas conveyed by this new, diaphanous forest of Notre-Dame, outlining the new face of the Church in the 21st century. A dynamic, agile and contemporary Church,” says the architectural firm.
On the other hand, Stockholm-based Ulf Mejergren Architects (UMA) feels that most proposals put too much focus and effort on the spire which is a rather recent addition built in the 19th century renovation. According to UMA cathedral looks much better without both the spire and the led-clad roof. “Instead we let the bell towers, the flying buttresses and the rose windows do the talking.”
UMA in its rendering has proposed a meditative public space; a complementary spatial experience to the building with unmatched views over Paris. Though the spire is gone, the twelve statues of the apostles that where put away during the restoration and managed to escape the fire. UMA proposes to install them at the roof as guardians around a large public pool that would occupy the whole roof. “Maybe the pool will be replaced in a hundred years or so, becoming another layer of great stories for the future,” says UMA.
Miysis, another architect firm has submitted a garden design with a glass roof. According to them the dimensions and volumes of the original roof needed to be preserved. So, they have chosen a discreet and sober exterior appearance that does not distort the silhouette of the building. “The setting up of a canopy taking up the rhythm and position of the original frame seemed interesting to us, this one, seen from the outside, takes the form of stained glass, while conferring a very simple aesthetic, close to the original roof,” said Miysis.
Baron Foster of Norman Foster architecture firm, on the other hand, proposes a radical overhaul of the 19th century spire. “The decision to hold a competition for the rebuilding of Notre Dame is to be applauded because it is an acknowledgment of that tradition of new interventions,” Foster told in an interview to The Guardian.
However, traditionalists are not at all happy the kind of proposals that are pouring in. They want the 12th century gothic cathedral built the way it was before the blaze. They want just the restoration and according to them there is no need/scope for redesign.
Now the government is in a delicate position – whom to follow? Traditionalists or modernists? There seems to be no mid-path. Whatever the government opts for, the final design should be able to compete with Eifel tower as a symbol of Paris. One needs to wait five years!