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.