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Notre Dame Work to Restore Latest Spire

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

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French President Emmanuel Macron has officially dropped the unpopular idea of building a modern spire atop a restored Notre Dame Cathedral.

The idea of implementing a modernized architectural take to top the iconic structure was seen as unpopular and divisive among architects and historians.

Fire Background

On the evening of April 15, 2019, flames engulfed the more than 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral, destroying the spire and nearly two-thirds of the roof.

With the help of about 500 firefighters battling the blaze, the fire was brought under control by the early hours of the following morning, five hours after the outbreak. Officials stated that no fatalities took place during the incident, and only one firefighter was reported to have experienced serious injuries.

There were no initial reports about what had caused the blaze, though police said at the time that it appeared to be accidental and that the cause could be linked to the ongoing 6-million-euro ($6.8 million) renovations. Since then, though, investigators have said they believe an electrical short-circuit is the culprit.

City and national officials have since been criticized for failing to fully disclose the risk of contamination as a result of 440 tons of lead roofing that had burned in the fire, which consequently sent clouds of lead particles into the air. Work was suspended for weeks over the summer, while the surrounding area underwent lead testing.

GodefroyParis, CC-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

French President Emmanuel Macron has officially dropped the unpopular idea of building a modern spire atop a restored Notre Dame Cathedral.

On Aug. 13, maintenance and clean-up practices commenced in Notre Dame’s 100,000-square-foot enclosed plaza and on surrounding streets.

The process involved vacuuming, scrubbing and rinsing the pavement and various surfaces using a highly pressurized water mixer combined with a special particle compound used to remove lead. The wastewater was then recovered.

On more dense surfaces like granite, workers use a special gel to coat the contaminated surface, which is left to dry for several days and is then removed, pulling out any lead particles that have become embedded in the stone.

Although environmental associations, labor unions and other groups agree that cleanup procedures should have begun months ago, new decontamination measures have been established for workers at the cathedral. Through the use of foot baths, showers and wearing of disposable uniforms, workers are both more protected and less likely to spread toxic particles outside of the plaza. Strict check-ins and check-outs were also employed.

Restoration

Macron has specified that he wants the monument to be rebuilt in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, slated to be held in Paris. To aid this goal, digital 3D scans taken by the late Andrew Tallon of New York’s Vassar College in 2015 are believed to provide the necessary information for fast-track construction.

However, before restoration efforts can begin, the melted scaffolding needs to be taken down—piece by piece (which is what’s happening now).

If the scaffolding were to fall or collapse, it could reportedly put other parts of the building in jeopardy, so workers will have to first build a structure above the scaffolding that will allow them to rappel down.

Officials began taking down the 50,000 metal tubes that make up the lattice in October. While they’re dismantling the lattice, they are also installing planks above and below the cathedral’s ceiling for closer examination.

At the beginning of the year, the ultimate fate of the structure was still unknown.

In mid-March, the process was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, French general Jean-Louis Georgelin, who is heading up the 40-person committee that is overseeing the restoration, told The Guardian at the time that the unexpected pauses in work should not impact the deadline.

Delays included specialist artisan builders being sent home as France went on lockdown, as well work being stopped before it began on the removal of the damaged scaffolding.

Georgelin had also noted that monitoring equipment attached to different parts of the structure indicated that there has been no movement in the last year.

At the end of April, the site was retrofitted for the virus, which included rearranging showers and cloakrooms as well as installing a place to eat. In addition, most workers are now staying at vacant hotels in order to not use public transportation.

Work officially resumed at the site in May.

Last month, the dismantling process restarted and is slated to continue through the summer. Two teams of five workers each will reportedly take turns descending on ropes into the scaffolding, which is made up of 40,000 pieces, and cut with saws through the metal tubes that fused together. The pieces will then be lifted out via crane.

Design

Possible design changes for the cathedral’s spire erupted just days after the fire, and French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe even launched a spire design competition, saying that instead of recreating the original spire, the city hoped to create a new design that is “adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era.”

Since the spire was not a part of the original structure, or even the first spire built for the cathedral—the first spire was believed to be built between 13th and 18th centuries, and was removed due to wind damage; the second spire was added during the 19th century restoration by French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc—questions about replicating the tower arose.

The founder of Farshid Moussavi Architecture (London), Farshid Moussavi said that a new opportunity has been presented in bringing together talent and donations to rebuild Notre Dame, much like when the structure was originally built.

“The rebuilding of Notre-Dame is an opportunity to expand that history,” Moussavi said at the time.

“Whereas the political landscape in the Gothic era was based on each country competing with each other to show their piety, today, we can come together as an international community to rebuild Notre-Dame because it is a world heritage landmark.”

Since then, several ideas have been revealed, including: Italian architects Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas proposed a contemporary roof and spire made from Baccarat crystals that would be lit up every evening; French designer Mathieu Lehanneur proposed a golden, fire-like structure; Bratislava-based Vizumatelier proposed a lightweight tower that would shine a beam of light directly upward; Cyprus collaborative architectural studio Kiss The Architect suggested various arches and balls wrapped around a central staircase-type spire; and Paris-based architects Studio NAB have submitted a design proposing a greenhouse and educational apiary to sit upon the damaged landmark.

However, about a month after the fire, the French Senate passed a bill that would require the cathedral to be rebuilt to its “last known visual state,” a move that pushed back against the proposed innovation for the structure.

The legislation was introduced in order to allow for the fast-tracking of reconstruction that Macron proposed. However, some other facets were changed as well, including a clause that would give the government the power to override regulations on planning, environmental and heritage protection and public tenders, according to The Local.

The law also dictates that the government create a “public project” to oversee the construction project, overseen by the Ministry of Culture.

What Now

Macron’s announcement last week follows the approval of restoration plans by the National Heritage and Architecture Commission, which slate that the site be restored to its prior state.

Macron’s office said that he trusted the commission’s expertise on the matter.

Macron’s office said in a statement that he had “become convinced” that Notre Dame had to be restored in a way that was “as true as possible” to its “complete, coherent and last known state.” The office also suggested, however, a more modernized area surrounding the cathedral in collaboration with Paris City Hall.

Reconstruction can’t start until the melted scaffold is cleared away; work is slated to begin in January.

   

Tagged categories: Aesthetics; Architecture; Churches; Color + Design; Design; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Fire; Government

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