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Notre-Dame fire: Macron vows to rebuild cathedral as structure survives

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Firefighters have saved the structure of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris after a devastating fire engulfed the medieval landmark yesterday evening

The 850-year old building’s famous spire and its roof collapsed but the main structure, as well as its two rectangular bell towers, have survived, according to officials.  

French President Emmanuel Macron said the fire was a tragedy but the ‘worst had been avoided’. He vowed to recruit the greatest talent from ‘beyond our borders’ to rebuild the cathedral and said he would launch an international fundraising drive to fund it. 

The fire, which broke out yesterday (16 April) at about 6:30pm local time sent orange flames into the sky and clouds of billowing smoke from the UNESCO world heritage landmark.

Parisians watched in horror as the cathedral spire collapsed while about 400 firefighters battled to extinguish the flames.

As darkness fell, attention turned to saving the cathedral’s iconic towers. After burning for about eight hours, the fire was mainly extinguished by 3am on Tuesday.

The cause of the fire is still unclear but Paris’s office of prosecution said it had opened an inquiry into ‘accidental destruction by fire’. 

The cathedral had been undergoing intense restoration work, financed by the state and private donors, which the fire service said could be linked to the blaze.

Tom Watson, a structural engineer who worked on the rebuilding of the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) said it would be ‘a miracle’ if the vaults survived.

He said: ’I hope the stone walls survive. They look quite stable without the timber but the heat could cause them to crack and spall. As we found at BAC, the water damage internally will be extensive.’

Watson said the first steps would be to make the building safe to enter and allow surveys to start. ’Then they can start the process of internally scaffolding the building, rebuilding damaged parts of the walls, the entire roof and vaults.’

Donald Insall – consultant and founder of Donald Insall Associates which rebuilt Windsor Castle after the 1992 fire – told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

‘The first thing they will need to do is establish the structural condition of the walls, because the fire will have taken all the timber, it will be the structural condition of the walls which have been super-heated which is the first thing to be explored.

‘They [the walls] will have been weakened, a cathedral especially a Gothic cathedral is a tangle of live forces in way, the buttresses all play against each other holding the thing together and this is what one first needs to establish what this cage of forces is doing today.’

Reflecting on the Windsor fire, he said: ‘The first and most terrifying thing was to make sure the fire was out, fire is so terrifying in terms of its appetite, it doesn’t like us have a meal and go away satisfied, its grows and expands with every bite so there will be vestiges of things still burning undoubtedly’.

Speaking at the site yesterday, Macron said: ’Notre-Dame is our history, our literature, part of our psyche, the place of all our great events, our epidemics, our wars, our liberations, the epicentre of our lives, … So I solemnly say tonight: we will rebuild it together.’

The dramatic footage prompted a groundswell of support from across the globe for the architectural treasure. In the UK, Historic England tweeted that it was ‘devastated’ to hear the news while RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said it was ’of immeasurable significance worldwide’.

Comment

  • Alan Dunlop, visiting professor of Architecture and hon. chair in Contemporary Architectural Practice at the University of Liverpool and visiting professor of Architecture at Robert Gordon University

Comparisons are already being made with the fire at the Mac. As tragic as the recent fire which destroyed the Mackintosh building was, it does not compare with the devastating loss of this 850 year old national symbol of the French nation. It was more than the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame was a fundamental part of the nations heritage. Consequently, president Macron has promised to rebuild and has called out for international help. I believe that the UK has the expertise, gained from the restoration of Windsor Castle and York Minster and can offer that support and we should, absolutely.

  • Alireza Sagharchi, principal at Stanhope Gate Architecture

We are devastated, especially for our French colleagues, losses such as this, or destruction of any world heritage sites touch all humanity. These tragedies and their aftermath make the case for preserving the skills with which they were built even more important. The good news is that these skills are alive and still practiced, albeit by a few. I am also glad that there is talk of reconstructing and not reinterpretation of what is lost. While materials perish by disaster or wanton destruction, the spirit of the place and the collective human memory that sustains such places keeps them alive.

  • Cécile Brisac, co-founder Brisac Gonzalez

Seeing the images of Notre Dame engulfed in flames was a complete shock. Worse was the steeple collapsing. Years of craftsmanship gone in instants. I have always been in awe of the delicate nature of Notre Dame, it’s lace-like stone work, its remarkable stain-glass windows, it’s humorous gargoyles, fine details everywhere you look.

As well as being an architectural masterpiece, it is a symbol of France and of Paris, encompassing 8 centuries of history. So much so that I received sympathy messages from people around the world, who remembered artefacts of various eras from St Louis to Napoleon. Paris is a resilient city, and the cathedral should definitely be rebuilt. What else? It’s difficult to imagine leaving a ruin in its place. It won’t be the same of course, but cathedrals historically are built over several chapters of history. It is a relief that the main structure has survived and no doubt architects and the public will rally around it as they have done previously to renovate it.

  • Farshid Moussavi, founder of Farshid Moussavi Architecture

I am very saddened that part of Gothic history and a beautiful part of Paris has been so badly damaged last night but I am sure we can gain strength in reminding ourselves of Gothic history which is a history of change and growth over time as well as people coming together to provide expertise and donations.

The rebuilding of Notre-Dame is an opportunity to expand that history. Whereas the political landscape in the gothic era was based on each country competing with each other to show their piety, today, we can come together as an international community to rebuild Notre-Dame because it is a world heritage landmark.

  • Irène Djao-Rakitine, founder of DJAO-RAKITINE

It was a dramatic scene. The flames going through the delicate lace masonry of the main arrow were so powerful. It’s traumatic to see the destruction of such a stable and timeless symbol that you’ve always known and that you thought would always be there. Now it’s about rebuilding the monument including the best artisans and architects in the world. Support is already coming from all around the world; it’s becoming an opportunity to built together a symbol of peace that will hopefully last.

  • PNC Menon, founder and chair of Sobha Realty

Notre Dame is a beautiful and iconic 850 year old monument with rich heritage and the recent fire is the most devastating thing that could have happened. It is important going forwards that more stringent and proactive measures are taken by the French government to ensure that such mishaps are minimized and that we all learn from this. I believe that the entirety of Europe should come together and raise funds to rebuild the beautiful cathedral and to restore it to its former glory.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Seeing Notre Dame on fire gave me this disorienting feeling of insecurity, as if my own home was on fire. But now we have an opportunity to build on this tragedy, which should make us realise that it is humanity that suffered a loss, and not just Paris or the Catholics. We all share in this loss and must unite in the work ahead.

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  • Rebuild Notre Dame, of course........but it can be rebuilt to be better than ever in both structural and decorative terms. This will show the world what can be done with today's technology and skills.......

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