Fanciful Visions of Notre Dame’s Reconstruction

Notre Dame's Flèche on Fire
Blaze that destroyed Notre Dame’s Flèche

Earlier this month, and more than a year after a disastrous blaze nearly caused Notre Dame’s total collapse, President Emmanuel Macron announced that the ancient cathedral’s spire will be reconstructed in its previous form. This declaration may seem a bit overdue. However, much has transpired since flames engulfed, then toppled, the 19th-century flèche. In the immediate aftermath of the fire, many debated the potential paths that Notre Dame’s renovation might take. Some people argued that funds would be better spent elsewhere. Others held that a faithful restoration was the only acceptable alternative. A third camp, including Macron and members of his administration, wished to preserve that which had survived while constructing something new to replace that which had been destroyed.

Within a week of the roof’s collapse, Macron vowed to rebuild the cathedral “even more beautifully” within five years. Edouard Philippe, then France’s Prime Minister, announced a worldwide architectural competition to redesign Notre Dame’s flèche. His stated objectives were somewhat less bold, indicating that the contest would shed light on the best way to proceed. Either France would learn that an identical flèche was needed or that a “new spire adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era” would prove to be a superior solution.

Over the last year, artists, architects, engineers, and other less serious yet creative minds have submitted proposals. In one that I saw many months ago and haven’t been able to relocate, sailing ships navigated colossal chutes of water leading from the Seine on one side of the Île de la Cité, to the cathedral’s rooftop, and down the other side, back to the Seine. Indeed, the proposals have ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime. Perhaps, Macron was smart to avoid the question altogether, eat his previous declaration, and go with a simple restoration.

This post gives you a look at just some of the many jaw-dropping suggestions.

Glass Castle

I’ve always been impressed with Europe’s knack for blending the modern with the ancient. In the case of architecture, when this is done well, the result is magnificent. I applaud, for example, I. M. Pei’s glass pyramidal entrance to the Louvre. Here are two worthy proposals to replace Notre Dame’s rooftop with a glass cover.

Glass-covered Notre-Dame by Alexander Nerovnya
Russian architect Alexander Nerovnya combines a glass roof with a traditional spire.

Renderings for Russian architect Alexander Nerovnya’s design, shown above, are stunning. [If you’d like to learn more about the projects described in this post, most of the images link to a page with further details.] Critiques of Nerovnya’s design, however, note that a glass roof would let in far too much light, thereby destroying the cast of the pre-existing stained glass windows.

A design by AJ6 Studio in Brazil, shown below, proposes stained glass for both the roof and the flèche.

AJ6 Studio stained glass roof and flèche
AJ6 Studio, in São Paulo Brazil, proposed a stained glass roof and flèche.

Ecology Flèche

Perhaps appealing to France’s strong commitment to environmental sustainability, some designers proposed new rooftops with the potential to slow the negative effects of climate change. One Dutch firm advanced a proposal for a roof reconstructed with bright blue tiles made from ocean plastic. Let’s just say the look was less than radiant. A Parisian-based design that has gained a lot of traction proposes a greenhouse, complete with apiary (collection of hives). In fact, prior to the fire, Notre Dame was home to roughly 180,000 bees that were living in hives on the roof.

Notre Dame Cathedral with Greenhouse Roof
In this design by Paris-based Studio NAB, a greenhouse tops Notre Dame. Hidden in the flèche is a multi-level beehive.

Unintentionally extending the beehive theme, is a honeycomb design by Colorado-based Studio Tjoa. Here the spire is made from sand-casted copper panels. The roof is stainless steel, with rafters and trusses of laminated wood. No word on accommodations for the scattered bees that survived the fire, but I much prefer this design to the greenhouse. Renderings of the spire at night are dazzling.

Honeycomb Flèche by Studio Tjoa
Copper honeycomb flèche by Studio Tjoa, inspired by the image of “a phoenix rising from the ashes”.

Flèche of Modern Art

Modern art has the potential to either attract or repel. While beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, I think we’ve all seen examples of modern art that we considered unfit for the praise it received from critiques. Perhaps unjustly, I place the following two proposals in this category.

Kiss The Architect modern art tops Notre Dame
Cyprus-based architectural studio, Kiss The Architect, proposed replacing Notre Dame’s spire with an eclectic mix of arches and balls wrapped around a central staircase.
Mathieu Lehanneur spire in flames
French designer Mathieu Lehanneur proposed memorializing the fire, replacing the flèche with a towering, golden version of the flames that destroyed it.

Public Space

Some designers completely tossed aside the idea of rebuilding a flèche and took up initiatives best left to urban planners. One design transformed the cathedral into a multi-level parking garage. Their rendering displays a rooftop bearing neatly aligned cars. The result is a strip-mall-esque canopy, supported by ancient gothic walls. Yes, the world’s cities desperately need new ways to expand pre-existing spaces, but seriously? Here are two proposals for using Notre Dame’s roof as a public recreation site.

Swimming Pool proposed by Ulf Merjergren Architects
Ulf Merjergren Architects proposed a swimming pool for the cathedral’s roof, stating that they didn’t care much for the previous spire and that the renovated space offered visitors an unmatched view of Paris.
Public park crowning Notre Dame
French designer Marc Carbonare proposed replacing the maze of timber in the previous roof with an actual forest and park where people can stroll and unwind.

Fleche of Light

I’ve saved two of my favorites for last. I’m largely of the opinion that what’s gone is gone. Time marches on and sadly, we lose many precious individuals and objects along the way. In most cases, I prefer to memorialize rather than reconstruct. In keeping with this idea is the 9/11 memorial in New York City. Rather than reconstructing the colossal towers of the World Trade Center, two reflecting pools mark the spots where the towers once stood. Soaring beams of blue light torpedo into the night sky as a powerful yet beautiful reminder of their loss. Below are two designs that embody this philosophy and that might well cost less to build than a faithful reconstruction.

Vizum Atelier replaces flèche with beam of light
Slovokian design studio, Vizum Atelier, proposed replacing Notre Dame’s flèche with a “quasi-infinite” beam of light.
Christophe Pinguet, Que la lumière soit
In his vision for Notre Dame, Que la lumière soit, French designer Christophe Pinguet proposes a series of beams, only activated during festivals and holidays.

I’ve shared just a fraction of the project submissions. With all that has happened in the last year, it’s easy to understand Macron’s delay in deciding the form of Notre Dame’s near future. Were I in his shoes, I can only imagine analysis-paralysis freezing me in indecision. Ultimately, there were far more people behind restoring the former design than were behind any one of the new proposals. Perhaps the path of least public resistance won the day. It remains to be seen, however, if the construction of a replica is as simple as it sounds.

Other Resources

  • Fast Company, The race to redesign Notre-Dame is heating up-here are 6 of the wildest ideas
  • Le Monde, Emmanuel Macron donne son feu vert à une reconstruction à l’identique de la flèche de Notre-Dame de Paris
  • Le Parisien, 10 projets fous pour Notre-Dame : voici vos projets préférés
  • Le Figaro, Notre-Dame: ces projets de reconstruction qui sèment la zizanie
  • Science et Avenir, EN IMAGES : Les projets pour Notre-Dame de Paris

About Carol A. Seidl

Serial software entrepreneur, writer, French to English translator, mother, and lover of: books, travel, history, cultures, art, cooking, fitness, nature.

2 Comments

  1. Merci, Carol. C’est amusant de voir les très beaux plans!
    J’adore le “honeycomb”.

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