Perhaps one of the most unfortunate causes of the blaze was the newness of the employee who communicated the location of the fire to the guard. The NYT reported that it was only his third day on the job, and he had just started a double shift manning the presbytery room, which contained a complicated control panel that alerted him to smoke anywhere in the complex. There’s debate over whether he understood the alert and whether he communicated it correctly. Recent staff cuts at Notre-Dame had left him solo, according to The Telegraph. The cathedral’s spire had fallen an hour into the fight against the blaze, and the fire was so all-consuming that all firefighters on site were ordered to return to the ground where, after realizing the wind was pushing the fire towards the northern bell tower, they switched their efforts to save that structure instead. By 9:45 p.m., things were under control. This NYT report sheds light on the various elements that caused the fire at Notre-Dame to get so far out of control. By chronicling the night’s events, hour by hour, we can now see how fragile the cathedral truly was, and how close we were to losing it forever—and by some estimates, still are. An official investigation by the French government is still ongoing to determine the cause of the fire, though it’s believed that no malice was intended. As of yesterday, parliament has approved a bill to reconstruct Notre-Dame by 2024, meaning the $954 million collected in donations following the fire will go directly to the restoration. According to the Senate, the building will be rebuilt to historical accuracy, though it will be a while before that can begin. Work on reinforcing the structure is currently proceeding very slowly and the project’s chief architect says it could still collapse if the flying buttresses aren’t shored up properly, CNN reports.
Notre Dame’s medieval roof structure, known as "the forest," has been lost to the massive fire, according to the rector of the cathedral.The frame featured trees cut down between 1160 and 1170, forming one of the oldest parts of the structure.https://t.co/sGKyk2xNGy pic.twitter.com/gL8G3bc4SY — CNN (@CNN) April 16, 2019
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Tort suits alleging liability for failure to adapt to climate change are unusual, but there are signs that they may be becoming more commonplace.Tort suits alleging liability for failure to adapt to climate change are unusual, but there are signs that they may be becoming more commonplace. An Illinois insurer recently filed (and then dropped) lawsuits alleging that various state municipalities were responsible for payouts because their stormwater management plans did not anticipate increased rainfall that caused flooding. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, plaintiffs argued, with some success, that it was foreseeable to the US Army Corps of Engineers that a navigation channel would change the local microclimate in ways that exacerbated hurricane damage (St. Bernard Par. Gov't v. United States, 121 Fed. Cl. 687, 721 (2015), rev'd on other grounds, 887 F.3d 1354 (Fed. Cir. 2018), petition for cert. filed, No. 18-359 (Sept. 9, 2018). Tort-like duties may arise in other contexts. Contracts might impose tort-like duties upon design professionals. For example, an architect whose contract specifies a useful life for a building might have a duty to anticipate the effects of climate change during that timeframe. Similarly, statutes can impose tort-like duties and may even be enforceable by private plaintiffs—a not-for-profit was recently found to have the standing to sue an oil company over allegations that its vulnerability to flooding made it incompatible with “good engineering practices” under the Clean Water Act. So, what is the standard of care? Simply put, design professionals have a duty to exercise the care of a reasonable practitioner in the location. Unfortunately, complying with this simple standard can be tricky, and the door is often open for someone to argue after a problem develops that the architect or engineer did not exercise the required level of care. The best way to minimize the chances of that door being opened is to pay careful attention to local best practices.
Compliance with local codes does not insulate the design professionals from liability if their peers are building to a higher standard.Building codes are one potential pitfall. While failure to comply with local building codes can lead to a finding of a per se (i.e., automatic) violation of the design professional’s duty, compliance with local codes does not insulate the design professionals from liability if their peers are building to a higher standard. Design professionals would be well-advised to be aware when local codes are outdated or backward-looking. For example, most states’ building codes do not account for sea-level rise. Similarly, relying on locally available climate data or projections may not be enough to protect the design professional from liability. Today, an architect in New York would have access to well-founded floodplain maps that take into account the potential impacts of climate change. However, this was not always the case. When Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, many communities’ FEMA maps dated back to 1983. In this situation, it would be more difficult for a design professional to claim that reliance on official floodplain data was reasonable. And this is a significant problem—a 2017 government audit found that 58 percent of FEMA floodplain maps nationally were out-of-date. Further, although New York City benefits from an additional set of FEMA-drawn maps that anticipate the impact of rising sea levels, this is not the case nationally, meaning that even a brand-new floodplain map represents the chance of being hit with a flood in the last century rather than the next one. Practitioners should also be aware of codes governing public development. Future plaintiffs could argue that they are admissible to attack or to buttress expert opinions on the prevailing standard of care for private development. Our practitioner in New York should be aware of the city’s new Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, which identify climate change risks and appropriate resiliency interventions for city projects—such as raising machinery when building in a potential floodplain. New York is not alone—various other state and local bodies, such as Boston, have developed or are developing similar standards. The Illinois lawsuits discussed above relied, in part, on rainfall predictions in the Chicago Climate Action Plan. Similarly, plaintiffs may argue that various nonbinding standards show prevailing practice. Industry bodies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers are attempting to develop such standards, and the Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board has published standards for engineers adapting to climate change. There is also the risk—as some design professionals have experienced with LEED certification—that undertaking to comply with otherwise nonbinding standards could create legal obligations. Our climate is changing rapidly. Design professionals already have plenty of incentives to make sure that our buildings and infrastructure are ready. A further incentive is that it reduces the risk of tort liability. Larry Dany is a partner at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP where he leads the Construction Industry Practice Group in New York City. He helps clients across the construction industry resolve a wide variety of complex business and legal challenges through planning, contract negotiation and drafting, dispute avoidance, claim management, arbitration, and litigation from inception through jury trial in state and federal courts across the country. Nicholas Boyd is an associate at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP. He advises corporations, financial services companies, and state agencies on complex business and civil litigation matters. His practice has a particular emphasis on antitrust disputes, class actions and construction lawsuits.
Notre Dame, the heart of the heart of Paris, treasure of the Île de la Cité, has just suffered one of the most trying moments in its long history. Across all lands and cultures of the world, this drama leaves us speechless, touching the hearts and arresting the gaze of everyone. It reminds us all how much architecture, and indeed every artifact, is a fragile thing. Notre Dame is now tragic proof that the preservation of our rich built heritage, of the tangible traces of the great heights of craftsmanship that have been achieved, wherever they may be, is indispensable. This incandescent wound also reveals the emotional dimension carried by architecture and how its universal cultural value, its unique symbolic force, and its mythical dimension nourish the arts, literature, and every individual’s own, personal geography.
Notre Dame is an absolutely unique place, at the heart of the Île de la Cité, from Roman Lutetia to Greater Paris, a land unto itself. This disaster has aroused an immense wave of emotion in the hearts of architects who every day are building and rebuilding the history of architecture.
Tasked in 2015 with conducting an in-depth study of the means of ensuring the continued urban centrality of the Île de la Cité, in collaboration with Philippe Belaval, President of the Center for National Monuments, this event leaves me particularly heartbroken. We made this “island monument," included on UNESCO's World Heritage List, the focus of innovative research and experimentation concerning the island’s future that was open to the participation of the public.
The rebuilding of Notre Dame will be an extremely delicate undertaking, and we must not allow ourselves to be discouraged by the irreversible loss of the medieval ribbed roof, also known as “the forest." Our heritage is a sedimentation deposited across the ages, with practically every century leaving its imprint on the cathedral. “Every wave of time superinduces its alluvion." It will have to be rebuilt, and without altering the substance of its heritage.
Therefore, we are compelled to completely review our relation to our heritage and to believe in its capacity for resilience. Notre Dame must be made to live again, and the best way to protect it is to see it through a vision of the future, which, through beauty, will transcend a simple restitution.
Finally, the unique energy of this place must be marshaled to restore to it an even more powerful presence, a wider resonance, transfiguring, amplifying, and exalting it into something else. The stakes regarding the future of this monument are unique. For Notre Dame and its island must once again incarnate the beating heart of a city that has become a vast metropolis. A most fascinating challenge indeed.
Dominique Perrault, Architect, Member of the Institut de France
The neo-Gothic church sits on Fifth Avenue across from Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan. Completed in 1878, it was designed by renowned architect James Renwick, Jr. Today, it’s one of the city’s most iconic places of worship and a National Historic Landmark that sees an influx of over 5 million visitors each year. The cathedral has been added on to and renovated extensively since first opening; MBB Architects most recently completed a $177 million restoration of the building in 2015. This isn’t the first time St. Patrick’s has been subject to some form of terrorism. In 1914 and 1915, respectively, a small bomb exploded on the northwest corner of the cathedral and a trio of Italian anarchists tried to detonate a bomb inside the church. While St. Patrick's Cathedral was only threatened with potential arson this week, a beloved parish uptown actually did get some real heat. The crypt at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Gothic Revival structure in the world, caught fire on Sunday morning. New York Daily News reported that a small blaze broke out at 10 a.m. and was extinguished by the fire department in under an hour. Located in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood, the late-19th-century piece of architecture was most recently renovated in 2008 after a 2001 fire swept through the north transept of the church, damaging the gift shop and a bit of its famous Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. In 2017, the building and its historic grounds were designated a New York City Landmark.
UPDATE: Marc Lamparello, 37, of New Jersey, has been charged with Attempted Arson, Reckless Endagerment and Trespassing. https://t.co/PYuOrqo1zS— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) April 18, 2019
Following the blaze, French citizens took to the streets singing prayer songs and chanting in solidarity and mourning for France’s premier cultural and religious site. The cathedral welcomes over 13 million tourists every year according to official estimates and was currently undergoing restoration work. Some of the initial images seen from inside the still smoldering nave of the church taken by journalists Monday night showed damage that appeared less dire than originally feared. In short order, France’s wealthiest citizens began pledging large donations to help pay for the restoration of the cathedral. So far, over $600 million has been promised to the project. “This cathedral will be rebuilt, I promise you," French president Emmanuel Macron said in a speech following the blaze while announcing that a national campaign will get underway on Tuesday to collect the funds necessary for the rebuilding effort. Macron added, “We will rebuild Notre Dame because that is what the French expect and it is what the French deserve.”
The intensity of the flames coming out of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris... pic.twitter.com/JDAMCXFMk4— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) April 15, 2019