The Notre-Dame Cathedral burned down last week, just as the Holy Week was beginning. For those who were unaware, the roof and the spire of the cathedral burned down. While some 5 to 10 per cent of the treasures in it burned with the roof, the whole structure remained sound, thanks to the whole cathedral being made out of stone. Both bell towers remained strong and the fire didn’t get into the rest of the building thanks to the stone ceiling.
Restoration vs. Redesign
After the fire was put out, people began to wonder if there is a way to restore the burned roof and spire. At first, it was said that restoration couldn’t be done because the oak trees needed to rebuild the roof don’t exist. So people all around Europe started pledging their old oak trees for timber to be used for the reconstruction. Then the Royal Fine Arts posted a suggestion where the redesigned room is to be made of glass and the Internet complained, citing that the cathedral is a church with a stone ceiling and not a shopping mall. Since then, the fight between those who wanted to redesign the roof and those who wanted to restore it has begun.
There are a number of arguments that are circulating around in the circles of those who are in favor of redesigning the roof. One such argument is that the architects feel that if they just did a restoration and not a redesign, then it is like living in the past. Like there’s no sense of progress. Some say that the task to rebuild Notre Dame is an opportunity. Finally, some say that it is impossible to bring back and fully restore the cathedral.
The Limitations and Greed of Modern Architects
First, before we must attempt any restoration efforts, we must accept the fact that most architects today are not specialized enough concerning the medieval techniques of architecture. They were not taught the same way the architects of that age were taught. Architects of the modern age prefer to cut costs, use straight lines and sharp angles, and lots and lots of metal and glass. They have a different discipline, and grew up in a different society, compared to their medieval counterparts.
Even then, architects want to put their name on something and so they see the reconstruction of the roof of Notre-Dame as an “opportunity.” This is a chance for them to put their name on a historical site. Slap a structure of steel and glass and they can call it a day. They don’t care about the feelings of those who will use the building: the Catholics, the Christians, people who are traditionalists by default, and those who value the history and lessons of the past more than the present.
Addressing the Arguments
With that out of the way, it is time to address their three arguments. The first is that they feel that a restoration is like living in the past. Architects want “progress” because they see their design as what they want architecture to progress to. However, they miss the point. The people wanted a restoration because they indeed wanted to re-live the past of the Notre-Dame. They, the clients, the Christians, see that as a good thing.
Second is that the architects see this as an opportunity. According to the article where this argument was presented it seems that they want to design the roof to fit the modern society. This “opportunity” could mean many things. Like they could mean that they should use modern materials and make it look like the building belongs naturally to the modern landscape. Or they could redesign it so that it is more socially sensitive, for example, by removing all the “problematic” symbolism so that the cathedral’s roof feels more inclusive.
Assuming both are true, imagine if someone suggested putting pink and blue hair on the Mona Lisa to make it inclusive. Da Vinci would haunt that person to the grave. As for the materials, there is already no problem with that because procuring the traditional materials is not a problem anymore, what’s with the $1 billion initial budget that was obtained just a few days after the fire.
Lastly, the pro-redesigners say that it is impossible to restore it. However, that’s not true at all. Materials such as the oak wood are already assured from pledges and donations by different groups. The designs are faithfully preserved by photographers, and by documentation. There are hundreds all over the world, and in France, where there is still knowledgeable with the traditional methods required. All they really need is an architect who can put it all together.
A cathedral is not a gesture towards the future, nor is it fit to be one. People want it to be just like before because it was already perfect as it was before. It is a symbol of the past, not of the future, and as such, the only way forward for it is a restoration. You might say that this is a close-minded approach and admittedly, it is. But that’s a good thing when the goal is permanence and preservation.
1st Image: Via ABC.net
2nd Image: Via The Guardian.