7 Interesting Reconstruction Ideas for Notre-Dame Cathedral

Notre-Dame de Paris might have lost its centuries old roof and spire, but it might be about to get a shiny new one.
Christopher McFadden
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On the 15th of April this year a devastating fire consumed and destroyed the roof and spire of the famous Notre-Dame de Paris in the heart of the city. The horrifying scene was watched by millions around the world as irreplaceable parts of humanity's shared heritage was lost forever.

But, like the mythical Pheonix, Notre-Dame's roof and spire are set to rise from the ashes once more thanks to generous donations for her reconstruction. After it was announced last month that a competition had been opened for proposals, architects from around the world decided to throw their hat into the ring. 

Here we have included seven of the most interesting and bold designs out there. Trust us when we say the following examples are far from exhaustive. 

They are also in no particular order.


What is the Notre Dame Cathedral famous for?

Notre-Dame, or Notre-Dame de Paris to give her full name, is a magnificent example of medieval French Gothic architecture in the heart of Paris. Her interior and exterior display some of the finest stonework, woodwork, and sculptures that architecture has to offer anywhere around the world.

She is, by far, the most famous of all Gothic cathedrals in France. Notre-Dame is visited by millions of people every year in admiration or religious pilgrimage. 

Her fame has been helped, in no small part, by Victor Hugo's historical novel Notre-Dame de Paris which was translated into English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Frederic Shoberl in 1833.

Various kings and Emperor Napoleon were even crowned there. 

Notre-Dame is one of the Catholic Church's most treasured cathedrals, and she is home to some of the most important holy relics in Christendom. These include some silver from the true cross and a nail from the true cross. 

The cathedral has seen, and survived, some of the worst periods in French history. During the horrors of the French revolution, for example, she was regularly plundered and vandalized and was eventually saved from potential destruction by revolutionary forces.

She also suffered some minor damage during the liberation of Paris in 1944 including bullet holes and damaged stain glass windows. Some of this can still be seen today.

How was Notre Dame built?

Part of Notre-Dame de Paris' construction was recorded, conveniently for us, by a chronicler of the time called Jean de Saint-Victor. In his chronicle, called the Memorial Historiarum, he records that construction actually began on the 24th and 25th of March 1163.

At this point, the cornerstone had been laid for the cathedral in the presence of King Louis VII and Pope Alexander III. The rest of the building was raised over four phases under Maurice de Sully and Eudes de Sully (not related). 

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The first phase saw the completion of the choir and ambulatories by 1177. The second phase, between 1182 and 1190, saw the construction of the nave.

The rest of the building was, more or less, completed between 1190 and 1260, with some brief hiatus for the odd crusade here and there. 

Various improvements were made over the years afterward with regular renovations throughout the ages. 

When was Notre Dame built in Paris?

The ground was broken on the cathedral's construction in around 1160 AD. It would take around 100 years to build Notre-Dame in 1260 AD.

After this time, Notre-Dame underwent phases of modification until she was desecrated in the 1790s during the French Revolution. After a period of neglect, major restoration began in 1844 which were complete in around 1864. 

Various other phases of restoration have occurred on and off ever since. The latest phase of restoration led to the devastating fire that destroyed the roof and spire on the 15th of April 2019.

notre dame reconstruction fire
Source: Sécurité Civile France/ Twitter

The cause of the fire is yet unknown, but theories range from an electrical shortage circuit on site to claims of arson (however this has been ruled out by investigators). 

After the fires had been suppressed and the smoke had cleared much of her roof and spire had been lost to the inferno. This prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to reassure the public that Notre-Dame would be rebuilt.

Fundraising began in earnest, and just over 1 Billion Euros was pledged for the project. On the 17th April, it was announced by French officials that a competition had been launched to design a replacement spire and roof.

Architects from around the world heeded the call to arms and what follows are some of the more interesting visions for Notre-Dame's new look. 

1. Blending God and environmentalism

notre dame reconstruction solar
Source: Vincent Callebaut Architectures

One of the most interesting visions for Notre-Dame's future comes from a Parisian architectural firm, Vincent Callebaut Architectures.

Their more organic design is intended to blend the very old with the latest in technology. The architects envisage incorporating an environmental design that includes solar panels and an urban garden.

We'll let you decide what you think about it.

2. A spiritual and natural sanctuary

notre dame reconstruction sanctuary
Source: Summum Architecture/Instagram

Another interesting design is to repurpose the new roof and spire as a memorial to the past and sanctuary to nature. Summum Architecture envisages a glass structure roof and spire with red and purple vegetation in memory of the inferno that destroyed it.

They also plan to make the structure a sanctuary for animals and insects. 

"May this reconstruction serves the environment and demonstrate to the rest of the world the knowledge of our French companions of how to deal with magnificent, technical, timeless architecture at the highest level possible. A symbol for future generations."

3. Stained glass galore

notre dame reconstruction stained glass
Source: Alexandre Fantozzi/Instagram

Another interesting proposal for the new roof and spire of Notre-Dame comes from a Brazilian architect called Alexandre Fantozzi. In an ABC News article, he mentioned how he was inspired to cover the roof and spire in stained-glass.

By his estimation, stained glassed windows are some of the most magnificent features in Gothic cathedrals. So why not throw out the old notion of "less is more." 

A bold move, and, his design proposal is actually quite sympathetic to Notre-Dame's ancient design.

4. This architect envisages a garden roof at Notre-Dame

One of the most unique proposals comes not from an architect and landscape designer. Clément Willemin plans on replacing much of the structure with an open-air rooftop garden.

The garden will feature walking paths around wild-looking bushes, plants, and flower beds in the center of the roof. As you might expect his proposal received a mix response and he doubts his design will win.

However, its boldness is quite refreshing compared to other design proposals you will see.

5. Eternal Flame

notre dame reconstruction flame
Source:  Mathieu Lehanneur

In commemoration of the devastating scenes of the fire, Architect Mathieu Lehanneur proposed rebuilding the spire as a gigantic flame. His proposal will see 100-meter carbon fiber and gold leaf flame bursting from a rebuilt roof. 

Whilst it might be garish to many, it is an interesting and thought-provoking proposal.

6. Forget fire, how about water?

notre dame reconstruction pool
Source: Ulf Mejergren Architects

Ulf Mejergren Architects have an interesting plan for the future of Notre-Dame's roof. They envisage installing an outdoor swimming pool, rather than replacing the lost roof and spire.

The open-air pool would have "unmatched views over Paris", and would incorporate the 12 statues of the apostles that were removed from the roof before the fire.

"Our addition is a complementary spatial experience to the building that will match the awe of the great interior; a space for thinking and self-reflection," said the studio.

It is not entirely clear if this is a serious proposal or not, but it is certainly imaginative.

7. Here's another bold design

Notre Dame reconstruction new meets old

Another French Architecture firm, AR+TE ARCHITECTES, has another bold reimagination of Notre Dame's lost roof and spire. They envisage a blend of old with new but, unlike other proposals, they plan to rebuild the spire and part of the roof in its former, traditional design. 

They propose, however, to add more extra spires to the cathedral's towers, and partially glaze the new roof. 

"Its reconstruction will be done by the respect of the old building and by the acceptance of the challenge of modern techniques. Notre Dame reflects this transition between the past and modernity. To do this, we will resume the momentum of elevation wanted by the builders with the spires of the cathedral." - AR + TE Architectes

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