The People's Notre-Dame Design Competition

Ursula Dimitriou, Dejan Mrdja, Ben Bedford, John Langran, Stamatis Zografos

Studio SYN

United Kingdom

Designer's Description

The Divine Body: Memento Mori and Collective Sublimations of the Death Drive.

Our proposal for Notre Dame is supported by two principles. The first one is the Memento Mori - reflection on mortality originating from the medieval Christian theory. The second is the Collective Sublimation of the Death Drive - application of archival theory and psychoanalysis on the listed body of the church.

Instead of spending billions for renovation, we propose a radical, yet sublime, gesture to enhance the spiritual and material aspects of Notre Dame and deliver an economic and elegant solution. It will communicate the feeling of awe, coming from both divine and natural forces.

The theoretical framework is based on Derrida’s philosophy developed in Archive Fever. For Derrida, archives can be explored through psychoanalysis – they carry both life and death drives. The life drive is the drive that leads towards the creation and preservation of life whereas the death drive counteracts life and always pushes towards extinction. When it comes to architecture, listed buildings can be understood as the manifestation of the life drive because their material integrity is preserved. Yet, buildings always degenerate, and this, in archival terms, is the manifestation of the death drive. In Freudian psychoanalysis, the two drives must be in a balance. Imbalance can lead to masochism or self-destruction.

We shall therefore consider Notre-Dame, a historic building, to be an archive. If the death drive is not released, it can be catastrophic to the archive itself. Our intention is to release the death drive inherent to all archives and facilitate the decay to take place freely for the sake of Notre Dame’s architecture’s longevity and welfare.

The proposal is realized in three stages. In Stage 1 we’ll "prime the base" by applying the yakisugi technique (controlled burning for wood preservation) to the remaining roof and the wooden parts of the church. The surrounding park and roads are also to be charred to create a suitable setting. In Stage 2 new paths will be carved. Heavy brass sheets will be laid over the charred rubble to pave the main access to the church. Brass will age gracefully and in synchrony with the metal artifacts already scattered across the site. In Stage 3 seeds of dark-leafed vegetation will be planted and allowed to freely expand complementing the master plan and the ruin.

The final result will be an Arcadian landscape, a beautiful French-style garden enveloping the remains of the church. Mass and other ceremonies will continue taking place.  The church will serve as a memento mori, a symbolic reminder of mortality, divine Judgement and the salvation of the soul, bringing death to the forefront of consciousness.

Our proposal will create a landscape for inspiration, contemplation, pray and admiration, as the church’s body regains its place as the most impressive Parisian monument transcending its national and religious materiality and becoming a symbol of exaltation and pride – a symbol for humanity.

Top 50 Visions of Notre-Dame