Latest wrinkle at Notre-Dame

Proposal for a visitors center in former garage beneath Notre-Dame, in Paris. (Bas Smets)

Paris’s mayor Anne Hildago has announced a proposed visitors center in an abandoned garage beneath Notre-Dame cathedral. Since visitors centers are notoriously ugly, this one qualifies as an odd duck. Its location underneath the cathedral’s large plaza hides it away quite nicely, with a colonnaded walkway facing the River Seine’s embankment – relatively bland and unexceptionable.

Bureau Bas Smets, the Belgian firm that won a competition for the plaza refurbishment and visitors center, seems to have modestly refrained from suggesting any of the usual eyesores for the revamped plaza, which apparently will remain much the same except for some new trees placed so as to preserve venerable views of the cathedral.

Dezeen has published an article describing the proposal, by Lizzie Crook. The comments on the article seem ambivalent about the proposal, which leaves me in some anxiety as to whether the leniency of my judgment has been too hasty.

A staircase leading to the visitors center from the far side of the plaza from the cathedral seems way too sterile, and new paving stones for the plaza, described as sized (for some obscure reason) to match the stonework of the cathedral floor, sounds a bit too prone to being monkeyed around with. But at least the below-ground visitors center may serve to deflect graffartists from defacing visible parts of the plaza and cathedral.

This is good news, given that Hidalgo has otherwise done much to destroy the beauty of Paris, including plans for skyscrapers within the Périphérique, the ring road around the city’s ancient center. She has replaced historic benches, street lamps and magazine kiosks with bland modernist street furniture; she has ordered the old items trashed rather than stored pending the resumption of sanity at the Hôtel de Ville, or city hall.

Unaccountably, her plan to gardenize the Champs Élysées seems inoffensive.

The bad news is that the worst ideas for restoration of the cathedral still include a Disneyfication of parts of the interior, with goofy modernist murals and other touristical crap. It is amazing that this proposal remains part of the plan, given President Macron’s decision that the cathedral is to be restored with meticulous attention to its appearance at the time of the fire in 2019. Lest it be forgotten, the interior of the cathedral is as historic and as venerable as the exterior.

The proposed plaza renovations and underground visitors center are to begin construction after the cathedral restoration is complete, according to French authorities, which is, surprisingly, now scheduled “by 2024,” or at any rate in time for the Paris summer Olympic games. Many experts think it should take much longer, and they may still be correct.

Proposed refurbishing of plaza at Notre-Dame, with entrance to visitors center lower right. (Bas Smets)

Proposed entrance to underground visitors center from far end of Notre-Dame plaza. (Bas Smets)

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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4 Responses to Latest wrinkle at Notre-Dame

  1. Jolly Watson says:

    I will continue learning more about .


  2. John the First says:

    Given the fact that Mister Brussat likes to defend the public, who according to him are mostly harmless proletarian-romanticists having an eye for traditionalist quality and beauty, thereby downplaying my argument some time ago, that the centre of Ghent is daily overflowing with tourists who have an eye mainly for themselves –while they photograph themselves using the historical scenery as background, while the air is saturated with the smell of junk-food these luxury-proletarian-traditionalists consume.., while the commercial exploitation of the centre runs wild– in order to promote themselves on social media, I propose the following: that there by made a facility for bungee-jumping from all the towers of the Notre-Dame, so that the romanticist-traditionalist public can enjoy the beloved traditional architecture even more from all sides and heights. Can you imagine the public jumping all around the towers, photographing themselves with the towers on the background while the many necessary recycle-bins, also those needed on the towers, are full of junk-food waste, and Mister Brussat will be standing there declaring: see how much the public loves traditional architecture.


  3. LazyReader says:

    What no mosque?…..

    Anywho. Rebuilding not really dame as is entails the same problems that come from negligence.

    Try the US capitol visitors center for examples if added addition. It’s nice, open, airy and not tomb like.
    The architecture is nice….abd it’s much easier to move, or evacuate people.


    • John the First says:

      To think about moving and evacuation of people is usually the profession of mob-managing-bureaucrats and their institutions. Tomb like, really these were not made for the gathering of democratic mobs, rather they sought to create an atmosphere for religious dedication. What business are you in? or is it that you feel an extra need to be able to breath and have a fast way of escape when you are in such visitor centres.


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