Notre Dame: How to rebuild a Gothic masterpiece

Written by Oscar Holland, Sheena McKenzie, Fiona Sinclair Scott, CNN

Contributors Ben Marcus

As the ashes settle from the embers of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, the laborious restoration process can begin. Rebuilding will take years, possibly more than a decade. Yet, for a Gothic masterpiece which famously took 107 years to construct, in addition to stood for centuries more, This specific may simply mark the latest evolution of a building which has been reshaped many times in its 850-year history.

Those looking for expect amid tragedy will be heartened by president Emmanuel Macron’s assurance which the French will “rebuild together,” in addition to the fundraising efforts which reached $670 million within 24 hours of the blaze taking hold.

These generous early donations suggest which funding, the most difficult part of any major restoration project, may not be hard to secure. Assuming the necessary financial support comes through, how exactly will the process be carried out?

Safety first

As with any fire-damaged building, safety will be the principal concern. The main structure (in addition to two bell towers) may have been “saved in addition to preserved,” according to French authorities, however parts of the cathedral could still be at risk of localized collapses in addition to falling debris.

Before distinguishing between the salvageable coming from the unrecoverable, immediate steps will need to be taken to prevent further damage, according to architectural historian in addition to broadcaster, Jonathan Foyle — not least, a temporary roof.

“which’s already a wet building because of the water which’s been pumped on which, so they’re going to need to provide some kind of cover coming from the elements,” he said in a phone interview.

Firefighters spray water as they work to extinguish a fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris early on April 16, 2019.

Firefighters spray water as they work to extinguish a fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris early on April 16, 2019. Credit: Zakaria Abdelkafi/AFP/Getty Images

which’s no modest task in itself, said the head of the Group of Companies for the Restoration of Historic Monuments in France, Frédéric Létoffé, “This specific will require a lot of work since, beyond shoring in addition to reinforcement, which will be necessary to build a scaffolding with an umbrella to be able to cover the entire roof which went missing, to ensure protection against weathering” he told reporters in Paris.

Securing the building

The first priority for restorers will be installing a temporary roof on the building, according to architect John Burton, a surveyor of conservation works at additional English Gothic churches Canterbury Cathedral in addition to Westminster Abbey. This specific will help experts carry out a detailed inspection of the site — in particular, how much of the structure can be secure.

“Gothic structures are all about balance,” said Burton. “The building stands up by all the components being compressed together.” The flying buttresses which once carefully supported the entire building could today be out of balance, he said.

After protecting the building’s remains, restoration teams will begin assessing the level of damage. which process itself could take years, he said.

An army of archaeologists

In order for French authorities to make any decisions about how to rebuild they will need to better understand how the medieval cathedral was constructed.

“The stripped roof in addition to upper masonry will reveal aspects of the building’s history which probably haven’t been understood,” Foyle said. “Notre Dame has virtually no building records. We know (which construction) began in 1163 in addition to was basically completed by about 1240, however there are no building accounts.

“Evidence for the evolution of which building can be from the physical fabric, so you’ll need an army of archaeologists all over which to better understand which parts they’re repairing in addition to what they belong to.”

Peter Riddington, an architect at Donald Install Associates, who worked on the restoration of Windsor Castle after which was damaged by fire in 1992, suspects one of the more immediate steps will be to carry out some archeological work.

“What was extremely useful for us (at Windsor Castle) was there was an archeological sift of debris,” he said during a phone interview.

Investigators might decide to divide up the floor area into a grid, in addition to assign a team to sift through every square, Riddington said. They’d pick up anything which might be useful — either items to reuse from the build or to be copied to make versions.

“This specific sort of process could surface thousands of trays full of valuable debris in addition to objects,” he said.

Once the “forensic” part can be over, Burton said, specialist committees will likely be set up to assess each of the elements — coming from stained glass to gold plating. which will then be down to a master architect to bring the overall design together.

Riddington recalls their being various “committees of taste” involved from the process during the Windsor restoration. “My guess can be they will need to have a committee of taste to make decisions on even the most fundamental things like, what can be the cathedral, once restored, going to look like.”

Another episode in ‘creation, destruction in addition to repair’

The goal of restoration can be not always to replicate the past. Modern tastes in addition to technologies may influence how damaged structures are reimagined. Take, for instance, the recent restoration of the Cutty Sark, a 19th-century British clipper, renovated at a cost of £50 million ($65 million) following a devastating blaze. A contemporary glass structure, housing modern facilities, was added to the base of the vessel, a tourist attraction in London.
A worker inspects the hull section of The Cutty Sark on October 11, 2007. The original conservation project was interrupted because of the damage caused by a fire on March 21, 2007.

A worker inspects the hull section of The Cutty Sark on October 11, 2007. The original conservation project was interrupted because of the damage caused by a fire on March 21, 2007. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

The fresh Cutty Sark, London UK (part of "Maritime Greenwich", UNESCO world heritage site).

The fresh Cutty Sark, London UK (part of “Maritime Greenwich”, UNESCO world heritage site). Credit: Maria Swärd/Moment Open/Getty Images

Authorities may wish to stay faithful to earlier renditions of cathedral. however which’s also possible which France takes a bold fresh direction with one of its most iconic national monuments.

“We’re assuming, maybe wrongly, which the cathedral will be restored as which was (before) the fire however which isn’t the only way to go,” said Riddington. “The cathedral has had fires from the past in addition to which’s been rebuilt in different styles in recent times,”

Indeed, the spire which collapsed to gasps coming from stunned onlookers Monday evening, was itself a break coming from the past, having been built during a sweeping 19th century restoration. Its designer, the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, made his spire taller in addition to more elaborate than one which had existed previously.

which restoration also resulted in additional significant adjustments to the cathedral’s facade in addition to interiors. “Notre Dame can be not a building which has been fossilized in time, Foyle said. “which has not remained static since the early 13th century.”

“which’s not something which had been perfectly preserved which was totally destroyed last night. You might (instead) see This specific as a traumatic episode from the long history of cyclical creation, destruction in addition to repair. which’s lived through wars, which’s lived through reformers, in addition to This specific will, I think, prove to be another episode.”

Discussions will no doubt long in addition to emotional as those involved attempt to navigate through the erly phases of restoration. For Burton, which’s important to acknowledge what happened through the process in addition to fresh designs. “We don’t want to build a replica of Notre Dame so which looks like which looked 800 years ago. We want to respect the fact which’s been in a fire in addition to leave traces of which — which’s all part of the history of the building.”

Skilled craftspeople

Many skilled labourers in addition to craftspeople including masons, carpenters, jointers in addition to carvers will all have to be recruited to work on This specific large-scale project.

John David, a master mason with over 45 years of experience, was heavily involved from the restoration of York Minster, the largest cathedral in Britain. The minster, a Gothic gem which can be one of the largest in Europe, was severely damaged in a 1984 fire.

“What I’ve heard once or twice today can be people saying ‘we can’t do This specific anymore, we haven’t got the craftspeople to do which.’ We have. We have plenty, in addition to we have plenty of people who can train others.”

Jean-Claude Bellanger, a head teacher at Les Compagnons du Devoir, a French institution offering training for skilled manual trades like carpentry in addition to masonry, said: “We contain the skills in addition to the knowledge to repair This specific building. however a lack of trained staff to work on time to finish This specific project can be the problem.

“We don’t have enough masons, builders… We are missing over 500 masons every year all over France,” Bellanger estimated.

David sees an opportunity for France today to train up their next generation of skilled workers.

“They will need more people, the job won’t be done very quickly, perhaps ten to 12 years,” he said. “which’s an opportunity for them to train craftspeople not just for Notre Dame however for additional buildings in addition to disasters. This specific isn’t the last.”

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