Reconstruction of Notre-Dame: the battle for the way forward for the cathedral – Bible Type

Reconstruction of Notre-Dame: the battle for the way forward for the cathedral

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After fifteen months of tension in which designers from around the world have developed the boldest, if not completely bizarre, designs for Notre-Dame & # 39; s new tower and roof, we finally have a verdict. President Macron and the panel of experts presiding over the fate of the 850-year-old Gothic cathedral, which has barely survived the terrible fire of last year, unanimously approved almost every recommendation from chief architect Philippe Villeneuve.

His 3,000-page report, published on July 9 with a four-hour presentation in Paris, could be summed up in one sentence: Notre-Dame de Paris will be rebuilt identically.

It is a great relief for the vast majority of people in France and beyond, and for the 57-year-old Villeneuve, the keeper of the cathedral, it is a sweet and emotional victory. Villeneuve belongs to Notre-Dame. As a young boy with a passion for organ music, he found his vocation in architecture when he sat on the wooden benches of the cathedral and spent hours listening to Pierre Cochereau, the legendary organist of Notre-Dame, who improvised on one of the largest organs in the world (5th ) Manuals, 111 stops and 7,374 pipes). Today Villeneuve is chief architect at Historic Monuments, one of 39 people responsible for France's architectural heritage, each of whom looks after a portfolio of important buildings.

In 1893 the Department of Historic Monuments began to recruit the most talented art historians and architects of their generation through a series of thorough and demanding tests. "Learning, talent, respect, discretion and moral qualities" were part of the job's requirements. They have been France's elite architectural corps for more than 120 years.

When I met him last summer, it was clear that Villeneuve did not favor a contemporary addition to the cathedral – especially not what he called the Flèche signature, in other words, a star architect's trophy tower. "In the 850 years of the cathedral's existence," he told me, "any architect who has built or restored Notre-Dame served the monument rather than himself." The first four architects, the “authors” of the cathedral, remain anonymous. We don't know who they were, and they most likely would not have considered themselves anything else than builders. "

He added: "I can only say that Notre-Dame is unique and does not resemble any other Gothic cathedral."

It looks as if his passion for Notre-Dame and his knowledge have won over both the French President and the Commission, representatives of the Church, the City of Paris and the Ministry of Culture. (It is important to remember that the French state, to which Notre-Dame has belonged since the Church-State Separation Act of 1905, is officially responsible for the monument; the church is only its beneficiary.)

As in the 13th century, the new roof frame is made of oak. It can differ only slightly in the way it is composed: The old oak wood of Notre-Dame from the 13th century, also known as the "forest", was arranged in a very artistic and distinctive medieval way for which no fastenings were required and Villeneuve was asked to suggest alternative assembly techniques.

Lobbyists for the concrete and iron industries had hoped to be consulted for a new roof. After all, there are some glorious precedents. When the Germans bombed Reims Cathedral in 1914, their reinforced concrete roof was rebuilt. And when Chartres Cathedral burned in 1837, its medieval chestnut roof with an iron structure was rebuilt.

Notre-Dame de Paris, however, is generally considered an even larger national symbol than Reims and Chartres, and a historical continuum seemed essential in everything. This means that lead is most likely the material chosen to cover the roof. Such a decision would fulfill three promises: to honor the choice of medieval builders, to respect the sensitive weight ratio of the monument (a very heavy lead blanket was an essential part of the balance of the entire infrastructure) and to live in harmony with the Paris skyline where lead has always played an important aesthetic role.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, the French President and the Commission of Experts approved the reconstruction of the 96-meter tower designed by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1859. What an extraordinary victory for this unloved art figure from The 20th Century! Viollet-le-Duc, a lover and scholar of Gothic architecture, a self-taught architect, became after his death

a defamed figure in France. Between the First World War and the 1980s, he was considered nothing more than a neo-Gothic forger. It was only in the 1980s that he regained his stature and reputation in the eyes of art historians and architects, both thanks to new research on art and architecture in the 19th century and thanks to an important exhibition in the Grand Palais that showed the many facets of Viollet -le-Duc's genius, passion, knowledge and talent.

In broader French society, however, his name has largely remained synonymous with neo-medieval silliness. At least five generations, including that of President Macron, were brought up to believe that the faux-Gothic style à la Viollet-le-Duc was fake. This probably explains why, in the hours after the tragedy of the fire on April 15, 2019, the French president had promised to restore Our Lady "even more beautiful" while Prime Minister Edouard Philippe "had created modern architecture" and started the idea of ​​one international competition to design a new tower.

Today Viollet-le-Duc has prevailed and its brilliance is finally recognized. For Philippe Villeneuve, Viollet-Le-Duc's great talent lies in the fact that his work was indistinguishable from that of medieval builders. His tower was unrecognizable; it could go back to the 13th century. “Indeed, many art historians consider Notre-Dame to be a 13th-century work as a 19th-century reinvention. Goodbye to these crazy designs that were cooked in the hours after the fire: from the huge greenhouse to the planted forest for endangered animals, from the cruciform swimming pool filled with rainwater to the tower in the form of a carbon fiber flame covered with golden leaves.

Restoring the tower of Viollet-le-Duc has other advantages: it is the cheapest and fastest option. Viollet-le-Duc always worked within the budget constraints of his time and his exquisite drawings and detailed plans, which have been carefully kept, can be reused. The billions of euros pledged by France's richest families in less than 24 hours after the fire, along with many thousands of more humble benefactors around the world, should help cover the costs with the help of the French state.

The five-year deadline that President Macron may have wisely set is approaching. Can Notre-Dame be fully restored by 2024? Possibly – but not if there is a further blockage due to corona virus and the construction site has to be closed again for three months.

Last summer, lead contamination meant an initial unexpected closure of the site for six weeks to thoroughly clean all of the surfaces at the top of the Île de la Cité. This spring, the site had to have its 150 artisans return home to protect themselves from Covid. This delayed the most dangerous phase of the work, cutting and removing the 500 tons of melted scaffolding that surrounded the tower at the time of the fire. The operation started in June and should be completed by the end of September.

If everything goes according to plan without scaffolding falling on the vaults below, the structure of Notre-Dame is finally considered to be completely saved. And the restoration can begin.

Another construction site will take place around the cathedral, which is rarely spoken of and which is almost as exciting as the restoration of the cathedral itself to completely redesign the access of Notre-Dame. The cathedral is blessed and cursed by the visit of 14 million tourists a year, and the city of Paris urgently needs to rethink how to better manage the ups and downs in and around the cathedral.

Father Gilles Drouin, an 18th century scholar of architecture and liturgy, was commissioned by the Archbishop of Paris to reinvent the interior of the cathedral when it is reopened for worship. Father Drouin must solve problems that have affected Notre-Dame's reputation for decades: to name but a few: the endless queues of tourists on the Parvis (the courtyard in front of the cathedral) block the passage of the Parisians. the inept and time-consuming security checks at the gates; and the repulsive cheap souvenir shops in the cathedral.

For decades, art historians have been calling for a museum dedicated to the history of Notre-Dame, where their works of art from all centuries, which are lacking in their own space in various museums in France, can finally be reunited. The now empty Hôtel-Dieu, the former hospital in the heart of Paris, which is directly opposite the Parvis, could happily accommodate such a museum.

And why not, for example, use the free parking lot under the Parvis to organize an access point to the cathedral for tourists with shops and facilities?

The next few years will be full of challenges and opportunities for city planners and architects who take care of Notre-Dame de Paris. The French media have come up with a name for it: "The construction site of the century".

Agnès Poirier is the author of Notre-Dame: The soul of France

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