Fiery Debate

General in charge of Notre Dame restoration spars with chief architect

The burnt scaffolding, which supported the since destroyed spire, has yet to me removed to allow renovation work to begin. (Guillaume Baviere via Flickr)

The drama surrounding the damaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Europe’s most visited monument, continues to build as the French government debates the fate of the cathedral’s befallen spire. The National Assembly’s cultural commission was convening last week to discuss the renovation when General Jean-Louis Georgelin, appointed to spearhead the project by French President Emmanuel Macron, suggested chief architect Philippe Villeneuve should “just shut his big mouth.” 

The animosity is due to disagreement over the direction of the $1 billion restoration project. The devastating fire in April, whose cause is still under investigation, completely destroyed the mid-19th-century timber-and-lead spire and the majority of the medieval wooden roof, and President Macron announced an international design competition for a contemporary replacement soon after. Despite the passage of a bill in May ruling that the Notre Dame restoration must maintain the original design, the fate of its spire still appears up in the air. Chief architect Villeneuve, meanwhile, has made his opposition to anything short of an identical reconstruction clear. “I will restore it identically and it will be me, or they will build a modern spire and it won’t be me,” said Villeneuve in an interview with the French radio station RTL last month. He invoked the 1964 Venice Charter, which requires restorations of historic buildings to retain their original architectural and historic value. 

Notre Dame Cathedral before its demolition

The reconstruction of the cathedral’s gothic spire, pictured here in 2016, has spurred intense debate over how closely it should resemble the original. (Kendall Gelne/Flickr)

General Georgelin was unequivocal when questioned by members of parliament, only confirming the President’s ambitious plan to complete the project by 2024, the same year the city will host the Summer Olympics. He promised to “move ahead in wisdom so that we can serenely make the best choice for Notre Dame, for Paris, for the world,” reported The Art Newspaper.

Nevertheless, construction on the roof and spire and cosmetic changes cannot begin until the cathedral’s structure is fully stabilized. The building’s burnt scaffolding, which was erected for renovation work prior to the April fire, has yet to be dismantled for reconstruction to begin. France’s Cultural Minister, Franck Riester, announced last month that the scaffolding removal would begin imminently. However, this process alone could take four months according to Christophe-Charles Rousselot, head of the Notre Dame Foundation. 

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