Notre-Dame spire to be rebuilt as exact replica

Emmanuel Macron has approved a project to rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral's iconic spire 'identically', ending the hopes of various designers who had proposed modern variations.

The French president rubber-stamped plans by the country's chief heritage architect, Phillipe Villeneuve, for an exact replica of the fire-ravaged 1860s Paris landmark, according to reports.

On 15 April 2019, flames destroyed Eugène Viollet-le-Duc's Gothic spire, along with the main roof of the 850-year-old cathedral, which also collapsed. 

Shortly after the fire, Macron questioned whether it was necessary to replicate the tower, saying: "As is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire."

These thoughts prompted a range of designers to suggest bold visions integrating planting and modern features such as a glazed atrium roof and even a swimming pool. 

A key concern for French politicians appears to be the speed of rebuild, with determination to complete the project ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

French title The Local says preparation works have already been slowed by bad weather, technical issues and the coronavirus pandemic.

"The president trusts the experts and approved the main outlines of the project presented by the chief architect, which plans to reconstruct the spire identically," the Elysée Palace told the paper.

Irène Djao-Rakitine, director of Paris and London-based Djao-Rakitine and a Mayor of London design advocate, last summer criticised the French Senate's decision to demand a faithful rebuild of the spire as a missed opportunity.

"Viollet-le-Duc has been very much criticised for his too innovative and original restoration projects," she said. "In 1995, when the Toulouse basilica was suggested to be dé-violletisé, most city's inhabitants opposed the project as they were simply used to the 'Violletisation'.

"Probably for the same reason, the French Senate [ruled] that Notre-Dame's restoration should be identical to the 'last known visual state'. Losing such a symbol of stability is a trauma. And it looks like most people, instinctively, think they can ressurect something that has disappeared and forget that it went through destruction.

"But why deny the reality of destruction? And why not use the opportunity given by its possible ressurection and rebirth to develop fresh, forward-thinking and innovative ideas, potentially leading us to a brighter picture, instead of nostalgia?"

Josh Sanabria, chief executive of GoArchitect, which launched an open ideas contest for the landmark's reconstruction, last year slammed the Senate's decision as a 'terrible loss to the democracy of design'.

He said: "Notre Dame was a cathedral for the people, and its future should be influenced by the people. They may choose to restore it exactly as it was or they may choose something else; the important part is that they are given a chance to decide."

But Alireza Sagharchi, principal of Stanhope Gate Architecture, welcomed the commitment to a faithful restoration at that stage, which he said could help revive lost stone masonry and woodworking skills while returning a 'much loved friend to its former glory, without interventions that may be the intellectual fetish of a certain era'.

Article source: Architects' Journal

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