Notre Dame Fire – Reconstruction Revisited

The world was shocked in grief and horror on April 15, 2019, when the 850-year-old historical French architecture “Notre Dame Cathedral” caught fire. The famous structure lives in the memories of many who have ever read the fiction masterpiece “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo. Generations have grown watching the movies made on the novel from time to time. I watched some of them, but that I like the most was released in 1956, starring the legends like Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida. Now you can best imagine that fire not only burned the Cathedral but the sweet memories of many all over the globe. 

Restoration of Notre Dam Cathedral

A team of eight reconstruction experts was assigned to assess damage to start planning recovery and reconstruction of the Cathedral. The fire caused significant damage, but the good news came when the team found the precious paintings in good condition and gold plated cross intact hung over the Pieta, a white marble statue of the Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus. 

“What matters isn’t the roof and vault so much as the sanctuary they protect,” Aline Magnien, director of the Historical Monuments Research Laboratory (LRMH), told Science Mag. “The heart of Notre Dame had been saved.”

The initial 10 days after the fire were critical. Funds, running into billions of dollars, were raised, and a reconstruction plan conceived which, was delayed due to unwanted, unknown, and un awaited COVID-19. 

Looking Back in Time

An opportunity hides in every crisis. The Covid-19 caused delay is helping the team looking better into the past. Cathedral was completed, in a long time of over 182 years. It is time now for the experts to dig into every detail of the structure. There is a lot to explore, like the limestone interior and the 100 years old wooden beams. The priority now is to support medieval structures, its arches, and flying buttresses that create a balance supporting weight in opposite directions. The interior has a coating of lead dust that melted into debris by the fire, accounting for about 200 tons of toxic waste. The use of a large volume of lead dust was the construction technique of the past that could have to remain intact forever if fire would not break. 

Reconstructing the Historical Artifact

The French officials were facing the most critical question of reconstruction after the fire settled. Heat now was coming from the debate, and not from the remnants of a fire that burned the Cathedral. The issue was the design for reconstruction. A contemporary design for the Cathedral roof and spire was an idea by the French President Emmanuel Macron, but what could be a “contemporary”? is a question to be explored further. The idea, however, was subscribed by the government. An international contest for reconstruction design was announced, which was delayed because of Coronavirus. 

Vincent Callebaut’s futuristic glass roof design

The design selection decision has now been taken, but submissions are still under review for possible, better feedback. The designs previously under consideration include Vincent Callebaut’s futuristic glass design. It consists of solar power and an urban farm for feeding Paris’ hungry and homeless, and Nicolas Abdelkader’s greenhouse roof with a beehive-filled spire. 

President Macron, however, has decided otherwise to recreate the exact look as it was before the fire. The French National Heritage and Architecture Commission is assigned to plan, develop, and implement the reconstruction process for Notre Dame for its restorations to its actual design. Undoubtedly the project will be a much costly one, taking a long time to complete. More than $1 billion of philanthropic contributions are there so far, but experts compare it to the renovation work done in British Parliament buildings, that touched on $8billions.  

Reopening by 2024 Olympics in Paris

A pledge has been made by President Macron to reopen Notre Dam in 2024 by the time of the 2024 Olympics Paris. Will it be complete by then is a question needing deliberations. The  Medieval restoration experts are of the view that the restoration of the roof, spire, and parts of the stone vaulting could take up to two decades. Although, that seems like a massive amount of time for a structure that still stands (mostly). The restoration scientists have an example in mind of restoration work of the Gothic Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, which was damaged in WWII. An estimated number of about 400 new trades-men need training in medieval restoration techniques that will perhaps take about an estimated time of over a decade. It is, however, possible that the Cathedral could be opened for visitors by the scheduled date in 2024 once initial structure stabilization work gets completed. 

Image Credit:

(Credit: Vincent Callebaut Architectures)

& Others

  • Urza Omar
  • The writer is a freelance blogger, content, copywriter, and an accredited motivational speaker and trainer.