The People's Notre-Dame Design Competition

Stephen Rowe

Durham Design

Canada

Designer's Description

This scheme was inspired by the great architect and architectural historian, Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc who restored Notre-Dame de Paris after the ravages of the French revolution. He was also the designer of the spire that was lost in the recent tragic fire. Viollet-le-Duc was a man with a profound reverence for the Gothic but he was not an ideologue insisting on a literal recreation of the lost and damaged medieval fabric. Instead he sought to capture the “spirit” of the Gothic, an approach that put him at odds with many of his contemporaries, including the  English art critic, John Ruskin. In his teaching and writing, Viollet-le-Duc urged his students to embrace modern materials and infuse them with the medieval master masons' genius for structural ingenuity and beauty that epitomized the work he so admired.

My proposal embodies this spirit. It is both innovative and respectful of the history and tradition of Gothic architecture.  The old timber “forest” that once sheltered the graceful stone arches of the cathedral has been irreparably lost, since replacing those timbers would require a second tragedy, the destruction of an ancient forest.    Instead, a new roof is created, replacing the dense wooden structure with a light, weathered, steel frame to create a garden in the sky covered with a roof of glass and a copper skin.  This will create a new modern public space offering spectacular views of the Paris skyline.  The form of the structure will echo the same natural elements that inspired the Gothic master masons and the Parisian architects of the Belle Époque, making the frame feel like the branches of trees overhanging a county garden. The shape and proportions of the roof and the spire will closely follow Viollet-le-Duc's lost spire, resulting in a solution that will have a silhouette almost identical to that of the lost roof.

Yes, something important has been lost. We should grieve the destruction of the cathedral’s ancient timbers and Viollet-le-Duc’s graceful spire. But death also makes possible the creation of new life;  life that should look forward not backwards.

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