Notre-Dame remains dicey

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Scaffolding at Notre Dame; note triangular space where roof once stood. (Paris Muse)

It was recently reported that the annual Christmas mass at Notre-Dame de Paris will not take place for the first time since the French Revolution, and, by the way, the survival of the entire cathedral, most of which was thought to be saved, remains in doubt. The New York Times reports that:

[T]he most urgent threat to Notre-Dame is thousands of scaffolding tubes — remnants of renovation work from before the fire — that were welded together by the blaze, creating a mass of twisted metal of roughly 250 tons that is weighing down on the structure.

Workers are erecting new scaffolding so that the melted scaffolding, parts of which look like a pile of pickup sticks, can be gingerly removed. Officials do not know whether their removal will increase or decrease the stability of the stone structures that did survive the fire of last April 15.

Time magazine has a brief video tour of work to save the cathedral. There is a before-and-after video with the UK Guardian’s story on a spat over design.

That story regards continued uncertainty after months of back and forth over whether the toppled spire will be rebuilt to look as it once did (probably using advanced materials and techniques) or in a more modernist style, as many architects apparently desire. One proposal calls for a swimming pool on the roof. Months ago, the French senate passed legislation to mandate a traditional approach, but that’s clearly not the last word.

The project architect chosen by French president Emmanuel Macron insists that the new spire will be identical in appearance to the old spire. But, at a recent meeting, the general assigned to lead the project by Macron (both are open to a modernist spire) told the architect that he should “keep his mouth shut.” The general was reprimanded while the architect, Philippe Villeneuve, stood his ground, declaring: “Either I restore it identically [and] it will be me, or they make a contemporary spire and it will be someone else.”

This is an inversion of the typical form, in which politicians (and generals) support tradition, perhaps because that’s what most voters prefer, while the architects want some sort of modernist style. I suspect that the public will win this debate – but it will be moot if the scaffolding is not successfully removed. To pray for that should be part of all our new-year’s resolutions.

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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7 Responses to Notre-Dame remains dicey

    • Your quip in Italian, Peter, which links to the Campanile of the great square at St. Mark’s, encourages the French to think along the same lines at Notre-Dame. And God’s ear, let us hope!


  1. clement says:

    Acts 16:31, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 1 Peter 1:17-21, Revelation 22:18-19


  2. Bill Viall says:

    This is really well said Dave. I was there that day it burned, a few blocks away. It was one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever witnessed. (Seeing bodies is worse.) I find it unconscionable that anyone outside of an asylum would want anything other than to restore it to what it was. If someone wants to make a Disney Cathedral or an iCathedral of glass, polished steel & white plastic and a disco ball, there are plenty of other places to build it. Notre Dame is not a tourist attraction as much as a spiritual place for all of humanity, regardless of religion. I find it a shame that people have so low regard for gifts from the past. I suppose the pyramids need some remodeling too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wild Bill – That must have been a terribly shocking experience. You are precisely correct about the perfidy of the modernists. I don’t doubt that many consider the fire not as a tragedy but as an opportunity.

      Andres Duany wrote long ago that modern architecture is parasitic. A modernist building amid an ensemble of other modernist buildings is a bore, but a modernist building set amid traditional buildings is disruptive, so at least it is not boring. Likewise, additions to traditional buildings. They are intended to insult the past, as if the future were not a creature of the past, and becoming part of the past second by second.

      Enough bloviation. I must try to steal your very nice neologism, iCathedral. I hope Victoria, Billy and I will be able to use your apartment in Paris sometime this coming year!


  3. Pingback: Notre-Dame remains dicey | Notre-Dame de Paris

  4. LazyReader says:

    The hordes of architects with computers and sharpies is at it again. Painstakingly drooling over this damaged remnant to change it’s subtext into something else. Something they can stain and defile for next century.

    The purpose of modernism in architecture and art is to eliminate emphasis architecture once held in regards to cultural and ethnic standards and achievements. If the form is simple enough, mass produce-able or capable of being replicated or done using the simplest of tools and techniques; techniques that don’t require skill than anyone can do it. Even so the echelon of elitists maintains it’s Status Quo they’re the only ones who can bring about such form and beauty. Which is why despite the simplicity of design, the commission is expensive and the engineering is beyond financial sense.

    In the modern “Woke” society, anything regarding historical or cultural contributions to architecture is painstakingly wiped; PARTICULARLY that of the Western World; as we are apparently the true barbarians and primitive societies were peaceful and superior? If you can’t handle your religion or ideology being criticized, you are mentally and sociologically unequipped to live in a society that values free expression. So instead today’s architects embrace meaningless shapes with no historical context. Thus nothing could ever be traced back to any of despised aspects of western civ. Modernism today in their mindset is nothing more than the opposite of “Western Chauvanism”. Even though thru modernism, the buildings regardless of appearance look the same wherever they stand. A glass box in Italy’s most historic district is no different than a glass box in Downtown Delaware………Sorry Norman Foster. Thus instead of offending fragile psyches, they offend common aesthetics. Which is why the buildings look like shit. It has no authentic attachment to any place, people or culture. And when people point that out they’re decried as white supremacists.

    Before; opponents of Traditional and Classical architecture hosed three arguments…
    1: They asserted such buildings were too dated to implement today. But their aesthetic support continued in preservation circles so their latest excuse…..
    2: They are too inefficient and resource extensive. Not green, I’d say What’s greener than a building that withstood 500 years of wars, plagues, fires and barbarians and with mild refurbishment last another. Versus the buildings of so called eco-architecture built to the same standard they last a mere 25 years.
    3: They’re too expensive to construct today. Thus it’s ironic that “scientific” Modernism has just produced some of the most costly and over-budget structures in living memory.
    – Apple’s Spaceship headquarters: $5 BILLION
    – One World Trade Center, NYC: $4 Billion
    – Wembley Stadium, London: $1.8 billion. The cable stayed toilet bowl, and the first sports arena to exceed a billion in costs. Of which over 200 million came from Britains taxpayers
    – Atlanta stadium: Built for 1.6 Billion, half of which was paid out of Georgia and Atlanta taxpayers

    By this point in their careers, Calatrava, Gehry, Foster, etc are at the end of their lives; they’re old or close to retiring NEVER the less; they’re still notorious for buildings that are either ridiculously ugly; detrimental to the surrounding scape and otherwise extremely costly to build and maintain. Today traditionalism is rejected on grounds of systemic racial oppression or male dominated patriarchy. None of these buildings by conflict of their complicated and irrational geometry and complicated engineering and expensive materials is suitable for urban renewal, their destiny is the wrecking ball when the cost of maintaining borders on what it costs of refurbish; refurbishing a building often built with a fixed proportion and architectural elements that double as critical engineering elements that cannot be removed. Even worse they F*** over the taxpayer too, as a lot of the buildings they’re designing at the end of their careers or the expansion of their practice are often public buildings built at taxpayer expense. Govt buildings, stadiums, public schools.

    Liked by 1 person

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