From a forest to a swimming pool: 12 architects’ proposals to rebuild Notre Dame


After the fire on April 15 that destroyed the roof of Viollet-le-Duc in the nineteenth century in the Parisian cathedral, architects from around the world have launched to publish their proposals on social networks, not all with equal acceptance by of the citizen.

Notre Dame reconstruction

As in any crisis situation, the catastrophe caused by the fire at Notre Dame has brought to the stage an interesting event that invites us to study and reflect on possibilities that we did not believe could be contemplated, thus stimulating progress as a society. Spontaneously, a multitude of architects and designers began to share their projects to intervene on the ruins, just as texts from thinkers appeared, turning their reflections on what would be the ideal action strategy after the fire.

Most of the proposals seen so far come from French studies, perhaps because for them the emotional impact has been stronger, because they feel more empowered to comment on an element that represents them or because they have felt the responsibility to pronounce themselves in relation to a topic that is generating an intense debate within your country, socially and politically.

The response has been immediate. Maybe too fast. It is appreciated in the result of the proposals, and their short development, generated from very basic project strategies, to solve with unique gestures or divine traits a situation of great complexity that forces us to think about the reasons of the architectural heritage and about issues such as restoration, heritage conservation or preservation techniques.

It is very interesting to note also the response of the public to this show that came without prior notice. Citizens are raising their voices, empowered and claiming their right to express their opinion on something they consider to be theirs, an element that represents them, which is part of their heritage. After each of the proposals that the designers communicate through their networks, infinite conversations of individuals are triggered by giving their opinion, reflecting on the appropriateness or not of the project, talking and answering each other from their idea of ​​what should happen.

The open debate bounces between those in favor of recovering and reconstructing the monument according to its forms, volumes and qualities prior to the fire – although that state is already the result of interlinked interventions over the centuries that mean that there is no original state of the cathedral-, or give way to answers from the possibilities of contemporary technology and technology, as well as the understanding of the spaces and aesthetics of the present moment. While a third way advocates that the building be conserved in the state of ruin that remained after the fire, which is where it is now, as a monument to the event and the present.

Here is a selection of some of the proposals:

1. Vincent Callebaut – Eco-friendly center for agricultural production

The Belgian architect presents the reconstruction of the cathedral as a statement of his architecture, and considers that the project can be used as a standard for the ecological possibilities of engineering through technology, renewable energies or sustainability strategies. It proposes a roof that will generate energy and contain a hydroponic farm (which uses mineral solutions instead of agricultural land to be able to grow in containers, as in this case the roof of Notre Dame), turning the cathedral into an eco-friendly building that it would generate more energy than it would consume.

The structure would be solved with laminated wood beams in combination with glass elements that would capture the light and transform it into energy to house orchards under it. In these cultivation plots would grow food that would be distributed in the city, even sold at the foot of the cathedral. A total of 25 kg of vegetables calculated by the architect that would be produced per square meter in these facilities.

2. Mathieu Lehanneur – The flame

The French designer has resorted to his piece fireplace applying a great change of scale to pay his tribute to the monument (and as a reminder of the fire itself). Its design, the simulation of a fire flame made in lava stone and with a golden finish, serves to propose what he considers a solution that responds both to the supporters of returning the cathedral to its original state, and to those who defend an intervention coherent with the current moment. About how that space would be inhabited we do not have information, since, like many of these urgent proposals, they remain in a very initial phase of approach.

3. Fuksas – The fragility of the story in Baccarat crystal

The Italian couple that forms the study Fuksas Architects -Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas- adds to the number of proposals that are decided by the way of glass, and propose the reproduction of a new needle in imitation of the previous one and covered in this material ( in social networks there has already been a resistance against these proposals for not being friendly with birds). They have chosen Baccarat crystal, the French region near Strasbourg, and understand this material as a symbol of the fragility of history and spirituality, using light as a representation of the immaterial, as enunciated in their networks.

Its new cover is one of those that reproduces in a more literal way the pre-fire forms, but with this glass and light finish with which they seek to establish a dialogue of the new with the previous trace. Both the cover and the needle could be illuminated from within to become a kind of lantern or lighthouse in Parisian nights.

4. Studio Nab – A nursery for bees on the needle

Studio NAB also wears glass its intervention to convert the roof of the cathedral into the greenhouse they intend to build. The proposal wants to respect the original silhouette of the church but to link it to the current time, responding to needs and issues of the context in which we find ourselves, such as the correct use of natural resources and the use of renewable energies. Thus, under the glass there would be orchards and spaces for workshops on ecology, while the needle, far from reproducing its Gothic past, will become a beehive, with multiple levels that support numerous hives, and which would be accessed by a staircase central.

5. David Deroo – The best accepted by citizens in social networks

Deroo is also committed to an intermediate or balanced solution between revisiting the building’s past history and incorporating the new technical possibilities of our time. It is, together with that of the Fuksas studio, one of the most faithful proposals to the original forms of the church, and in some way also the most discreet one. As the architect and artist declares in his Instagram account, “I hope that the final project that is carried out is humble but innovative, delicate, beautiful and committed, created by highly trained people around a common table.”

This proposal is the one that has the greatest approval from the public, based on the responses it receives in its social network. It seems that citizens – at least, users of social networks – do not feel prepared yet to overcome the weight of history and look forward, or maybe simply proposals that break with the previous have not been attractive enough to achieve your approval.

6. Álex Nerovnya – Millennial beauty

Again a project that bets for a reproduction in glass of the cover. The argument that he exposes in his social networks, where an intense debate was opened from the images he was sharing, is that everything changes; that the cathedral itself has already undergone successive transformations over the centuries, and that, no matter how good the restoration is, it will never return to the same previous state.

Therefore, he continues, one should not be afraid to raise something different, even if his proposal is similar to so many of those we have been seeing these days. The Russian architect concludes in his last speech by assuring that “Paris expects a new diamond that must be designed to emphasize millennial beauty”.

7. Vizum Atelier – ‘Neo-neo-Gothic’: Connecting the sky with the earth

The proposal of the Slovenians of Vizum Atelier continues the idea pursued by the architects of the Gothic churches to reach the sky with their constructions. In this search, the study proposes an intervention that focuses on the crossing of the ships -the deck is reconstructed according to the state prior to the fire-, to raise a needle that, built to a height, then continues its way to infinity in a beam of light that “connects the sky with the earth”, according to the architects.

8. Kiss the architect – A sculptural ‘silly madness’

The study based in the United Kingdom and founded by the Cypriot Dakis Panayiotou presents an image that can not be interpreted as a consistent proposal, but rather we can consider it a nod or tribute to this great monument. Resolve the composition by placing a previous pavilion of yours, A foolish folly (a foolish madness), in the place of the old needle. The arcs and balls of this construction change in scale and suddenly acquire a more sculptural or ornamental meaning, composing what can be one of the most dreamlike images we have seen about it.

9. AJ6 Studio – Games of light and color

This São Paulo studio has focused on one of the most emblematic elements of the cathedral, the rosette, to develop its proposal from the tinted glass of which it is composed. In this way, with a rather simplistic gesture they propose a cover and needle formed entirely from this material. A certain game of color caused by the passage of light through the glass could be interesting in this proposal that remains in a confusing approach, without adequately reviewing the Baroque tradition or propose a gesture from the contemporaneity.

10. Tara Sovtho – A cover born from the Russian rib

From a somewhat innocent position, the Russian designer launches a proposal detached from all prejudice and devoid of references. Following the same rhythm generated by the pillars and buttresses of the preserved part of the cathedral, the design of Sovtho (Taras Zheltyshev) is related to the existing through a series of ribs that join in the bay, then ascend towards what it would be the current needle, strongly inspired by the forms of the Russian architectural tradition.

11. Mysis – This is a forest

Using glass again as an element to incorporate contemporaneity into the proposal, but reproducing the shapes and volumes prior to the fire as a strategy to dialogue with its history, the Belgian studio Mysis 3D offers a design that no longer surprises. One aspect that does make this proposal particular is the way in which they propose recovering the experience of the “forest” -population with which the attic of the cathedral formed by a forest of wooden beams was already known-, using large structural elements of wood similar to those projected by Viollet-le-Duc in the nineteenth century, in combination with real trees that would be planted in the central axes of the ships.

12. Ulf Mejergren Architects – A pool for contemplation

To give the cathedral a complementary use to that of the amazing interior was the decision of the Swedish studio Ulf Mejergren Architects. To do this, they propose this large swimming pool conceived as a new public space for contemplation, which invites meditation and reflection that unleashes a space like that of Notre Dame.

There is no needle or roof reconstructed, the architects retrieve the statues of the apostles that had been removed during the restoration – and survived the fire – and that now act as guardians of the large public pool. The cathedral, say the architects, should not be an island in the urban fabric but a space that belongs to the city and the people. Not only for its suggestive function, but for the power of the image it constructs and the dialogue of the past with present situations. It is one of the most groundbreaking and successful proposals so far.

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