France to exactly restore Notre Dame spire, ditching modern designs

After a year-long debate, the spire at Notre-Dame Cathedral will be restored to its former 19th-century Gothic design. The announcement was made on Thursday by French President Emmanuel Macron, who had previously leaned towards a more “contemporary gesture“.

A source for the Elysée Palace declared that “after the consultations today, the president became convinced of the need to restore Notre-Dame of Paris in such a way that conforms as much as possible to its former complete, coherent and known state.”

In April 2019, the iconic cathedral unexpectedly caught fire during a renovation project. The disastrous blaze caused the 96-metre high spire to collapse into the nave, bringing down the roof with it.

Donations from around the world soon poured in, raising almost €900 million (£805 million) in only a couple of days. A month later the government proposed an international architecture competition that would see unconventional submissions including a rooftop pool, a giant greenhouse on the roof, a stained-glass ceiling, and even a virtual spire made of light beams.

The contemporary designs sparked outrage across France. Many conservators demanded the restoration of original 19th-century spire, which had been designed by the renowned architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

Macron initially argued against a straightforward rebuild because the spire “wasn’t part of the original” building anyway; Viollet-le-Duc’s spire had in fact replaced the first 13th-century spire, which was removed due to extensive damage.

But following a 3,000-page report and the overwhelming amount of recommendations from experts, the French president concluded that the rafters and roof should be restored to “their last known condition.

The project should be completed by 2024 in time for the Paris Olympic games. Jean-Louis Georgelin, who is overseeing the construction, assured that the deadline was possible “if everyone rolls up their sleeves”. However, numerous delays have already troubled the cathedral’s restoration, including bad weather, lead poisoning concerns and the outbreak of coronavirus.

Alexandre Gady, a professor of art history at the Sorbonne, has also warned against rushing the restoration of France’s finest examples of Gothic architecture. “A year on, we’re forgetting the real lesson of this fire is that we were unable to protect Notre Dame: it burned before us,” he explained. “That’s what we have to avoid tomorrow. This must be done calmly.”

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