Notre Dame – Reconstruction After Fire

The world was shocked in grief and horror on April 15, 2019. The 850-year-old historical French architecture of “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. Notre Dame was a historical monument for centuries.

History of the Cathedral

Generations have grown up watching movies made on the novel from time to time. I watched some of them. The most I like is the 1956 release, starring the legends like Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida. Just imagine that fire not only burned the Cathedral but the sweet memories of many all over the globe. 

Notre Dame Reconstruction
Restoration of Notre Dam Cathedral

A team of eight reconstruction experts was assigned to assess the damage. The team was also responsible to plan the recovery and reconstruction of the Cathedral. The fire caused significant damage. The good news came when the team found the precious paintings in good condition. The 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 raising is running into billions of dollars. A reconstruction plan was postponed due to uncertainty looming because of COVID-19

Looking Back in Time

An opportunity hides in every crisis. The Covid-19 caused the delay is helping the team look better into the past. Cathedral took a long time of over 182 years to complete. 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, arches, and flying buttresses. These 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. It that could have remained intact forever if the 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 French President Emmanuel Macron, but what could be a “contemporary”? needs further exploration. The idea, however, was subscribed to by the government. There was an international contest for reconstruction design. Again it did not start in time because of Coronavirus. 

New look of the cathedral
Vincent Callebaut’s futuristic glass roof design

The design selection decision is now final, 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 responsible to plan, develop, and implement the reconstruction process for Notre Dame for its restoration to its actual design.

Undoubtedly the project will be a much more 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, which touched on $8billions.  

Reopening by the 2024 Olympics in Paris

President Macron pledged to reopen Notre Dam in 2024 by the time of the 2024 Olympics in 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 the restoration work of the Gothic Cathedral in Cologne, Germany. The cathedral was damaged in WWII.

An estimated number of about 400 new tradesmen need training in medieval restoration techniques that will perhaps take an estimated time of over a decade. It is, however, possible that the opening may delay. The Cathedral can open for visitors by the scheduled date in 2024 once the initial structure stabilization work completes. 

Image Credit:

(Credit: Vincent Callebaut Architectures)

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  • The author has rich management exposure in banking, textiles, and teaching in business administration.