People’s Notre-Dame contest

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Entries to GoArchitect’s “people’s” design competition for Notre=Dame. (GoArchitect)

GoArchitect offers “The People’s Notre-Dame Design Contest,” supposedly as distinct from the international design competition announced by France after the cathedral fire in April. So far as I can tell, the announcement has not been followed up officially with a structure under which the competition would be held. Furthermore, in May the French Senate mandated recreating the cathedral’s “last known visual state.” This would contradict President Macron’s call for “an inventive reconstruction,” and presumably nullify the proposed official international competition.

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GoArchitect’s competition, whose winner will be announced on July 31 after voting that is under way now at the above link, has a $1,000 prize but no official influence on what is built. After the French Senate’s action, the competition’s CEO stated: “It would be a terrible loss to the democracy of design if the French Senate closes the door to the debate and exploration of the future of Notre-Dame Cathedral.”

Huh? “The democracy of design”? What in blazes is that? If democracy played any substantial role in design, the architecture of cities would be noncontroversial. It would please most people, as it did for hundreds of years. It would somehow manage to reflect the fact that the public overwhelmingly prefers traditional to modern design. Of course, the public has almost no say in the look of buildings or the design of cities. The vast bulk of what gets built today is widely disliked. Remember, even Frank Gehry called it 99 percent crap. If nothing else, the “people’s competition” proves that democracy plays little or no role in design.

Just go to the GoArchitect link above and examine the entries. Because the images are small, I could find only two or three entries that seemed intended to reflect the will of the French Senate – which, I suppose, reflects in some degree the will of actual voters in France. More so, certainly, than the result of this “people’s competition.” Several dozen of the 225 entries seemed to be reasonable attempts to innovate upon the roof and spire of the cathedral without entirely disrespecting the original. But the largest contingent were obviously ridiculous entries seemingly intended to insult the history of the cathedral and blow a spit ball at those who revere the building.

Among these latter, I suppose my favorite is entry 10102, in the middle of the top row up above. It features a rooftop pool with a “river” running through it. Wowie! The river flows into and out of the roof pool along a flyover high on stilts. Napoleonic warships at not much less than full scale ply the pool and flyover. As is conventional in blind design competitions, we are not invited to doff our hats to the architect that came up with that idea.

I know there are people out there, readers of this blog who enjoy really, really bad architecture. I know this because they keep sending me emails with links to the most outrageous things, hoping, perhaps, to get my dander up and thereby inspire another of my “Can you believe this?” posts.

To these wonderful folk I say keep ’em coming! In the meantime, click on the link above and enjoy!

Such masochism has the effect, no doubt, of raising awareness that people’s intuitive dislike of such garbage is shared by most other people. And that knowledge may feed into a rising disinclination to let architectural elites and their developer buddies continue to pollute the world’s built environment. Accolades to the French Senate for reflecting that awareness, and putting its foot down on President Macron’s tomfoolery.

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No. 10240 is one of the few entries that seem to replicate the original. 10220 may be another.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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1 Response to People’s Notre-Dame contest

  1. LazyReader says:

    It’s amazing, usually architecture has entered the grounds of elitism, yet they’re relying on democracy for approval. Really let’s you know how the interwoven arms of fascism and architectural modernity fit hand in hand.

    What’s more embarrassing, is how even just a few decades ago we saw architecture applied to buildings of non residential or personal use. Particularlly industry, commercial and services.


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