Take Your Time

Architects, engineers, academics urge Macron not to rush Notre Dame reconstruction

International News Preservation Professional Practice
The exterior of one of Notre Dame Cathedral's massive rose windows, pre-fire (Stephanie LeBlanc/Unsplash)
The exterior of one of Notre Dame Cathedral's massive rose windows, pre-fire (Stephanie LeBlanc/Unsplash)

The scramble is on to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral before the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, but a concerned coalition of curators, architects, art historians, preservationists, and more have told French president Emmanuel Macron to slow down.

In a petition published by the newspaper Le Figaro on April 28, 1,170 signers spoke out against hastily reconstructing Notre Dame. Macron has taken steps since the April 15 fire to speed up the cathedral’s repair, first announcing an international design competition to replace the downed spire, and then the formation of a draft law that would appoint a citizen’s group to oversee the reconstruction. According to The Art Newspaper, the body would have the authority to forgo preservation regulations in the name of meeting the 2024 deadline.

Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of the painting department at the Getty Museum, Louvre chief curators Nicolas Milovanovic and Cécile Scailliérez, and a number of prominent French preservationists put their names on the Le Figaro petition.



Complicating the issue is that the exact status of Notre Dame is unknown at this point. While the forest of 12th-century wooden support trusses and Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th-century spire were brought down by the fire, the limestone vaults and thick walls remain standing. The cathedral’s three majestic rose windows also remain intact, but experts cautioned that the fire, and subsequent attempt to put it out, could have caused unseen damage to the structure.

“Limestone can lose about 75 percent of its strength when it’s exposed to heat over 600 degrees Celsius,” stone conservationist George Wheeler told The Art Newspaper. “And that fire certainly exceeded 600 degrees Celsius in many locations.” Microscopic cracks in the stone and glass caused by rapid heating and cooling will only become apparent once a full survey of the cathedral has been completed. At the time of writing, experts have not yet determined whether the loss of the roof struts have endangered how the building’s weight is distributed, either.

The water used to put out the fire still needs to be removed from the church’s interior as well, and much of the mortar will need to be replaced to prevent the growth of mold. Overall, conservationists have estimated that rebuilding Notre Dame to its pre-fire status could take at least a decade; as such, it remains to be seen whether Macron’s timetable is achievable. In the meantime, a number of architects have already jumped at the chance to design a contemporary update to the cathedral.

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