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Macron calls on young architects to rebuild Notre-Dame spire

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French president Emmanuel Macron has called upon young architects to deliver an innovative restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral’s destroyed spire, despite the French senate’s insistence it is faithfully restored to its previous state

Speaking to French architects last week, Macron said he would like ‘young [people] full of promise’ to work on the project, which should aim for ‘respectful audaciousness and an inventive reconstruction and restoration.’

The speech came shortly after French senators approved the Notre-Dame Cathedral restoration bill with a caveat demanding it is rebuilt exactly as it was before the fire.

The surprise move by the upper house has potentially torpedoed Macron’s plan for an international contest to select an innovative new ‘spire adapted to techniques and challenges of our times’.

According to The Times, the president said: ‘We must not forget that the monuments which we admire today [were] often done by very young architects.’

Alan Dunlop, visiting professor of architecture at the University of Liverpool, suggested ‘new, fresh thinking and a contemporary approach’ was more important than the age of any architect selected for the commission.

‘Notre Dame demands a new structure for the roof and spire,’ he said, ‘a contemporary approach that is representative of a forward-looking country.’

Dunlop argued that the senate’s requirement for a faithful restoration was ‘absurd’ because the roof’s ‘forest of oak’ roof structure was invisible to the public and was itself built harnessing cutting-edge technology of its time.

Similar bold innovation, he said, ‘is required now for Notre Dame’ to deliver ‘a new stage in its development and history. If that is achieved by a young architect, great, but whatever the age of the architect, that is what is needed.’

The architect previously working on the cathedral’s restoration, Philippe Villeneuve, has meanwhile supported calls for the building to be faithfully restored, according to EuroNews

He said: ‘For me, not only must you redo the spire, but you must recreate it exactly. We’re bound to the Venice Charter, which requires that we restore historic monuments in the last known state.’

As well as insisting on a faithful restoration, the French sentate also removed special exemptions from planning, environmental and heritage controls, which had been intended to deliver on Macron’s five-year deadline for reconstruction to complete before the Paris 2024 Olympics.

The amendments, agreed on Monday (27 May), must be accepted by the National Assembly before becoming law and could be challenged. The lower house is controlled by Macron’s La République En Marche party while the upper house is politically more conservative.

The 850-year old building’s famous spire and its roof collapsed during the fire in April but the main structure, including its two rectangular bell towers, survived. The entire complex was restored and significantly remodelled in 1864 by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

Shortly after the fire, the French prime minister questioned whether it was necessary to replicate the tower, which was created by Viollet-le-Duc, ‘or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire’.

The announcement prompted a range of architects – including Norman Foster, Studio Fuksas and Belgium’s Vincent Callebaut – to suggest bold visions for how the structure could be restored integrating planting and modern features such as a glazed atrium roof and even a swimming pool.

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