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Renowned architect pitches for Notre Dame cathedral new design

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The bell towers, situated at the front end of the cathedral, held the vaults of the nave in place. PHOTO: Pixabay

Foremost British architect, Norman Foster has jumped into the international competition to design a replacement spire for Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, proposing a glass-and-steel topper to replace the cathedral’s ruined roof.

His firm, Foster and Partners maintains international design practice famous for high-tech architecture.

In an interview in English publication The Times, Foster presented his vision for a new “light and airy” roof for the fire-ravaged cathedral.

The previous attic space dated back to the 12th century and was nicknamed “The Forest,” as it contained a tangle of 1,300 timber frames, each coming from a unique oak tree—the sheer amount of wood likely fed the fire that ravaged it last week.

Foster’s updated vision for the cathedral calls for installing a glass topper, arched to mimic the original wooden roof, ribbed with lightweight steel supports. The new spire would be made of glass and steel and could potentially include an observation deck at its base.

“In every case, the replacement used the most advanced building technology of the age,” Foster told London’s The Guardian. “It never replicated the original. In Chartres, the 12th-century timbers were replaced in the 19th century by a new structure of cast iron and copper. The decision to hold a competition for the rebuilding of Notre Dame is to be applauded because it is an acknowledgment of that tradition of new interventions.”

The modernization scheme drew an immediate reaction online, where social media users compared the revamped cathedral to a Foster-designed Apple store or the glass Reichstag dome in Berlin.

Additionally, several people pointed out that the plan to flood the interior with light would be hamstrung by the stone vaulted ceiling below the attic space and would blow out any light coming in from the historic stained-glass windows.

Of course, Foster isn’t the only architect to propose a radical overhaul of the 19th -century spire. Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, known for his neo-Gothic, laser-cut steel sculptures, announced last week that he would be entering the design competition as well.

Since the international competition was announced, plenty of people have gotten creative in envisioning “ adaptive reuse” projects that give the historic cathedral a bland, modernist overhaul without regard for its surroundings. Even though these have been done in jest, some of them have come quite close to what Foster has proposed.

Foster + Partners has clarified that the illustration formerly accompanying this article was not produced by the office or Norman Foster.

Aster the Notre Dame Cathedral tragically caught fire recently, it seemed that work to rebuild what was lost could take decades. However, in a televised address, French president Emmanuel Macron declared that he would be pushing an ambitious five-year schedule and would be reopening the cathedral in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

Additionally, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that France would be holding an interfnatrional design competition to rebuild the cathedral’s downed spire.

“This is obviously a huge challenge, a historic responsibility,” said Philippe, adding that the new design should be “adapted to technologies and challenges of our times.” Rather than strictly recreating Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s original barbed spire from the mid-1800s (itself an invention added after the French Revolution and wind damage left the cathedral in shambles), Philippe questioned if it was time to modernize the building.
Philippe reportedly asked, “whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc…or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire.”

No timetable or cost for the spire competition has been announced as of yet, but funding likely won’t be an issue. At the time of writing, $900 million has been pledged for Notre Dame’s reconstruction as hundred-million-Euro donations from some of the world’s wealthiest people and corporations continue to flow towards the project.


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