in the valley of tears, sign us
let my prayer come to you
we sleep safely until morning
your starry cloak covers us
- ave maria
As fire engulfed the cathedral roof and swallowed her paradigmatic spire, a chorus of Parisians lined the River Seine in dismay. A liturgical hymn radiated from the blaze, grieving and memorialising the moment the face of Notre Dame Cathedral was transformed. Our concept design endeavours to sanctify this moment of mutability in reverence of the hauntingly bittersweet display of community and faith that accompanied it.
"Both the word and the thing are modern," said Eugène Viollet-le-Duc
Our concept design marries a sensitive reproduction of the spire‚ as a defining form on the Paris skyline, with an undulating, fluid mantle cloaking the cathedral in an ethereal light. The mantle is of a polymer fabrication reinforced with a carbon fibre lattice, arranged to orchestrate an interplay of lightness and darkness. The roof plan has become a reflected ceiling plan that celebrates the ingenious original vaulted ceilings, illuminated from within. The organic geometry permits controlled glimpses of the sky, a transformative, experiential dichotomy which permits natural light to flood the cathedral during the day, until her starry cloak covers us at night.
The concept design appropriates the research conducted by the Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) at the University of Stuttgart in building-scale fabrication of glass and carbon fibre-reinforced polymer composites. The research centres on the performance of lightweight fibre composite construction of high tensile strength in long span structures, principally inspired by biomimetic processes.
The ICD / ITKE 2015 pavilion espoused the web-building processes of the diving bell spider, which inhabits a submerged air bubble reinforced with a hierarchical arrangement of silk protein fibres. The prototype created by the Stuttgart researchers experiments with pneumatic membranes stiffened with carbon-fibre matrices to form a stable composite shell. A pliable, translucent membrane is inflated to form the pneumatic, air-supported structure in its initial condition. A robotic arm subsequently reinforces the membrane with a network of carbon fibre filaments delivered onto its internal surface. Mirroring the spider's process, as expressed by professors Achim Menges and Jan Knippers, a digital agent navigates the surface shell geometry [to generate] a path for the [robotic] fibre placement. When the pressurised air is ultimately returned to ambient conditions, rather than deflating and slumping, the membrane spans between lines of reinforcement and retains its full form.
The novel fabrication achieves a sense of ethereality and mutability, intrinsically dependent on the materiality of the composite and its differentiated, multi-layered geometry. A reimagined condition of completeness, with minimal disturbance to the remaining cathedral elements, which could never have existed at any other time. A restoration, where both the word and the thing are modern.
Credits: Original artworks by Jean-Claude Golvin (aerial), Dai Wynn (street-level) and Michael Graham (experience).