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Notre-Dame: France announces international competition to rebuild spire

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  • 16 Comments

France has announced an international architecture competition to rebuild the spire of Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral after it collapsed in a major fire

Prime minister Édouard Philippe said the contest would ensure the heavily damaged landmark would receive a new ‘spire adapted to techniques and challenges of our times’.

The promise to hold a competition comes shortly after French president Emmanuel Macron pledged to rebuild the 850-year-old cathedral within five years.

More than £700 million has so far been donated to cover the costs of reconstruction, although there is no official estimate of the eventual price tag.

Philippe’s announcement followed a special cabinet meeting focusing on the devastating fire, which engulfed the medieval landmark on Monday evening. The prime minister said reconstruction would be ‘a huge challenge, a historic responsibility’.

According to the BBC, Philippe questioned whether it was necessary to replicate the tower, which was designed by French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1844, ‘or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire’.

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

While the spire and roof collapsed, the main structure, comprising the UNESCO world heritage landmark’s two rectangular bell towers, has survived. 

Farshid Moussavi, founder of Farshid Moussavi Architecture, said the rebuilding of Notre-Dame provided an opportunity to recreate the bringing together of talent and donations which created the original medieval structure. 

‘The rebuilding of Notre-Dame is an opportunity to expand that history,’ she said. ‘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.’

French architect Irène Djao-Rakitine said the ‘best artisans and architects in the world’ would be needed to restore the landmark. ‘Support is already coming from all around the world,’ she said. ‘It’s becoming an opportunity to build together a symbol of peace that will hopefully last.’

Speaking on Monocle 24, University of Liverpool visiting professor of architecture Alan Dunlopp suggested France should ‘do something contemporary, something new, something that represents a foprward thinking country.’

He said: ‘In Scotland I was one of the few people who said we should build something new after the Glasgow School of Art fire. To my amazement they [the French] have said they will conserider building something new. I applaud their ambition, elan and chutzpah.’

Details on the competition have yet to be announced.

  • 16 Comments

Readers' comments (16)

  • oh god, another Heatherwick shiny spikey thing will win it..

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  • Silly idea. Violet-LeDuc's drawings exist, so there'd be no conjecture in rebuilding the fleche.

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  • Be careful what you wish for...maybe we can convince the French to have a tulip-shaped spire, with an educational platform and viewing pods? It might be a clever way of saving London from that fate?

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  • We need a flèche for the 21st century...from an international starchitect.

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  • Violet-le-Duc was one of the greatest architects of his time, a French Pugin. Just rebuild the tower as it was, haven’t the Parisians suffered enough!

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  • The Notre-Dame situation reminds me of the half joking, half serious joke line I used in the past when commenting on the battle between restoration or new build. The imaginary response of the chairman of the Planning Committee to Christopher Wren when presenting his classical design for the new St Paul's Cathedral. "Mr Wren. You cannot be serious. Our historic Gothic cathedral is burnt out but the structure survives. It is past of our history. Yet you want to replace it with a classical design. Why can't you rebuild our Gothic Cathedral within the surviving walls? . Mr Wren was given a hard time before he won the argument. The result is we have the present magnificent classical cathedral and not an old St. Paul's in reconstructed Gothic. Who was right? Food for thought with Notre-Dame. Owen Luder CBE PPRIBA

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  • Personally I hope they go for re-creating the spire as it was before the fire, but comments about 'another Heatherwick shiny-spikey thing' might be paying too much attention to Thomas and his works - the example of the 1960s 'shiny spikey thing' that replaced the long lost spire on the fine church at Linlithgow shows what can be done.
    The debate in France might well become more intense even than that in Scotland over the future of the scandalously re-destroyed Glasgow School of Art.

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  • Gordon  Gibb

    Robert Wakeham, I think the expression "scandalously re-destroyed" is one of the best pieces of language use I have ever witnessed. It may indeed be found that the Notre-Dame loss resulted from negligence, but I tend to think that the Notre-Dame situation is quite different to the potential resolution to the GSA fiasco. The spire is a discrete object which adorns the building. I think it can be changed, although any new idea would have to be measured against the quality and longevity of its predecessor, rather than being approved because it suits the current ephemeral fashion (isn't it great how good post-modernism looks now?). I think that the competition is a good thing, but I do think that the spire should be for aspirers. The eye of the needle test should be applied to the entries, with the rich "stars" being unable to pass through whether on a camel or not. Let the meek inherit the win for once, Emmanuel.

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  • I presume RW meant "what damage can be done" in relation to Linlithgow church. A prime example of ugly shallow statement-making gestures that so quickly go out of fashion, and its excuses for existing ring hollow.

    As for Notre Dame, it's already mired in political egotism, a flood of self-aggrandising money and demands for expediency when it is not yet known how much of the vaulting or upper parapets have calcined, or how far decayed the flying buttresses had already become. So who knows how many years of preparation will be needed before anyone dares, or learns how, to support something so unique in order to safely dismantle and repair. France has a limited number of hugely respected conservation architects, and outside the Conservation Group the RIBA continues to find the specialist subject embarrassing, so I have yet to hear anyone say that nothing should be done until deep and painstaking research, and a strategy founded on archaeological, historical and spiritual understanding are completed. I hope this will take years, not weeks. A jazzy, headline-grabbing competition for the spire is the last thing to consider, and its almost instantaeous accouncement is shameful ignorance writ large.

    Too much money and innapropriate pressure of time. Pray for Notre Dame....

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  • I have the winning design for the spire tucked away in my drawer........it's quite magnificent!

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