Patterico's Pontifications


Notre Dame Cathedral: French Senate Says No To “Experimental” Spire Replacement

Filed under: General — Dana @ 8:42 pm

[guest post by Dana]

I say hear, hear for honoring the historical, and for treasuring the exquisite.

A 300-foot-tall flame sculpture, a shooting beam of light, and a tower that resembles a spaceship are among the outlandish proposals put forth by architects to replace Notre Dame’s legendary spire, which collapsed during the cathedral’s devastating fire in April. But, in the end, none of these architectural follies is likely to become reality. On Monday, the French Senate voted that the cathedral must be restored to resemble as closely as possible its appearance before the blaze.

There has been a vigorous argument about the design of a new spire. Demands that it be rebuilt to look as it did before the April fire stood in direct opposition to the push for modernization. The decision to regulate the renovation explicitly mandates that any renovation of the cathedral must preserve the “last-known visual condition” of the monument, including the spire.

Given that “two days after the fire, France’s Prime Minster Édouard Philippe announced an international architectural competition to reconstruct the spire, this week’s vote by the French Senate underscores the belief in preserving tradition. While Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris voiced a preference for a replication of the original design, President Macron said he was open to “a contemporary architectural gesture” that could make Notre Dame Cathedral “even more beautiful.” Oh, please. As if.

Here are a few examples of how architects and artists, and even landscape architects, imagined a new Notre Dame Cathedral spire:




Oh, and yes, this is a cross-shaped swimming pool on top of the cathedral:

notre dame

Make this more beautiful, President Macron? I don’t think so:

notre dame

Here is a brief overview of the spire:

The cathedral’s flèche (or spire), which was destroyed in the April 2019 fire,[81] was located over the transept. The original spire was constructed in the 13th century, probably between 1220 and 1230. It was battered, weakened and bent by the wind over five centuries, and finally was removed in 1786. During the 19th-century restoration, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc decided to recreate it, making a new version of oak covered with lead. The entire spire weighed 750 tons.

Following Viollet-le-Duc’s plans, the spire was surrounded by copper statues of the twelve Apostles‍—‌a group of three at each point of the compass. In front of each group is an animal symbolising one of the four evangelists: a steer for Saint Luke, a lion for Saint Mark, an eagle for Saint John and an angel for Saint Matthew. Just days prior to the fire, the statues were removed for restoration.[82] While in place, they had faced outwards towards Paris, except one; the statue of Saint Thomas, the patron saint of architects, which faced the spire, and had the features of Viollet-le-Duc.

The rooster weathervane atop the spire contained three relics: a tiny piece from the Crown of Thorns in the cathedral treasury, and relics of Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve, patron saints of Paris. They were placed there in 1935 by Archbishop Jean Verdier, to protect the congregation from lightning or other harm. The rooster with relics intact was recovered in the rubble shortly after the 2019 fire.[83]

(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)


26 Responses to “Notre Dame Cathedral: French Senate Says No To “Experimental” Spire Replacement”

  1. This urge to modernize, to assume that it always makes “better,” to believe that we must constantly be pushing forward lest lest we fall behind has so many built-in pitfalls, all but unrecognizable to those speeding rapidly on the inside lane.

    Dana (779465)

  2. The spire was a faux medieval 19th century construction, so in spirit, almost all of those proposals (okay, not the swimming pool one) are worthy replacements. The all stained glass idea is idiotic but closest in spirit.
    Personally I think think ND would look better without it. The spire that was did not really reflect any other architectual elements. Perhaps a low square spire that reflects the two towers of the West(?) Facade.

    Kishnevi (fe869b)

  3. I agree that the above suggestions are atrocities. Having said that, maybe it looks better up close, but in pictures the old spire also looks like something out of Flash Gordon to me. Like an Art Deco radio tower, or maybe even an antenna on a space alien’s helmet. 😉

    nk (dbc370)

  4. And once again, Kishnevi and I share the same thought at the same time. 😉

    nk (dbc370)

  5. Our idea of the Gothic style is really a 19th century invention. For actual Gothic, try the Sainte Chapelle

    It was btw built expressly to hold the “Crown of Thorns” relic that was eventually transferred to Notre Dame (and the rescue of which from the fire was much talked about).

    Kishnevi (fe869b)

  6. This is an interesting read on Viollet-le-Duc, for those who want to know more about him. This is interesting:

    Even as construction crews work to shore up the weakened building, there is speculation of which version of the Notre Dame spire will be the model for the rebuilding. Viollet-le-Duc has sometimes been derided for being too interventionist in his restorations; the pointy spire certainly was his alone.

    “The spire that he built was a spire of the 19th century, let’s be clear,” said Forgeret. “It’s a creation from the 19th century, but inspired by everything he knew, by all his science and knowledge of the Middle Ages.”

    Dana (779465)

  7. Why why why do modern architects need to do ridiculous things? No apiary, no transamerica building. Just build something classic and fire-proof for the love of all that’s holy.

    (FWIW I also don’t like the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre.)

    Nic (896fdf)

  8. Is nowhere — literally no place — sacred?

    All connected in any way with the modern proposals ought to be shamed and shunned. To the extent non-visible rebuilding choices in methods and materials can make it safer and stronger, that’s great. But its appearance must be as close as possible to how it looked before this fire.

    To even contemplate anything else is a betrayal of what it means to be human, with a decent respect for the past.

    Beldar (fa637a)

  9. I’ve updated the post with Wiki’s description of the spire in case readers want to know more. I think there is always a danger in modernizing to the extent that the need to feel socially relevant can overshadow a simple architectural feat. While the images in the post are outlandish, and the stained-glass is a typical of the Gothic style, it nonetheless is a modernized use of a traditional element that seems to me, tacky and jarring. As if intentionally out of place. Bring back the spire, let it age over the centuries.

    This, from architect Nicolas Abdelkader, who designed the above greenhouse spire, sums up why I think leave well enough alone. In this day and age, there can be no simple matter of design and aesthetic – it has to be something relevant to today’s causes:

    For NAB design founder Nicolas Abdelkader, Notre Dame’s reconstruction is an opportunity to tackle social and environmental issues, “values dear to the Church and presumably to the French state,” he told ABC News.

    He makes the roof a greenhouse dedicated to training the unemployed in urban agriculture, horticulture and permaculture, and makes the spire into a giant hive for the bees miraculously saved during the fire.

    “We could produce the famous ‘nectar of the gods’ in the heart of the new spire,” Abdelkader said.

    The spire debate reminds me of the addition of the Louvre pyramid in the late 80s’. That made me grumpy, and this makes me grumpy now.

    Dana (779465)

  10. I like the swimming pool. Gonna need a few more flying buttresses on the already weakened building.

    And, actually, the garden roof is kind of cool and doesn’t damage the sight lines. A little tinting and who’s to know?

    Kevin M (21ca15)

  11. Inspiring? Nyet.

    Just lose the spire and fireproof the roof. The thing always looked like an afterthought of design anyway. The lines of the catherdral, from the twin bell towers down to the flying buttresses look much better w/o it.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  12. In 2015, art historian Andrew Tallon photographed and laser mapped the entire cathedral inside and out. So there is an exact blueprint to follow, accurate to within 5 mm, if France wants to return Notre Dame to its original glory.

    Gawain's Ghost (b25cd1)

  13. What annoys me most about the swimming pool is that, besides being sacrilege, it’s just about the heaviest thing you could put on top of a medieval flying buttress arch. The whole PROBLEM of building those things was that the roof was too heavy and threatened to collapse. Some did.

    The pool would be about 100m x 10m by 2m deep the long way, 50m x 10m x 2m the short way, less some counted twice, or about 2500 cubic meters of water. Which weighs 1 metric ton per cubic meter, or 2500 tons of water. Plus the weight of the concrete in the REAL roof that is (laughingly) going to hold it.

    Besides being esthetically challenged, they are also terrible engineers.

    Kevin M (21ca15)

  14. @12. Yeah, PBS Nova did a great doc on the laser scanning procedure for ND and other cathedrals of the period. It’s a superb record. It’ll always come back to cost/time– and securing the proper materials for 21st century renovation. Though frankly, to my eye, the lines of the cathedral look better, more majestic, w/o the ‘after thought’ spire- but no doubt they’ll want to reconstruct it for continuity sake.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  15. architects design problems and the builders solve them.

    mg (8cbc69)

  16. besides being sacrilege

    Baptisme en masse

    Besides being esthetically challenged, they are also terrible engineers.

    The rooftop swimming pool has to be somebody’s attempt at an internet meme. I think we can forgive them for not doing a finite-element analysis…

    Dave (1bb933)

  17. I think we can forgive them for not doing a finite-element analysis…

    Back of the envelope would be enough.

    Kevin M (21ca15)

  18. #15
    Yes. While keeping the aesthetics intact. Harder to do than it sounds, but done all day every day.
    Rooftop gardens are heavy too even with the special lightweight soil blends.

    Where is the idea for a Las Vegas style roller coaster?

    We are in the midst of a time when there is little knowledge of history and even less respect for it. Current teaching is that European cultures, religions, and the white males involved in those things have destroyed indigenous peoples, the climate, and the planet. Rebuilding as was would be a perpetuation and celebration of a crime. The best thing to do is an architectural purge.

    steveg (354706)

  19. What’s with the tower of hot water heaters?

    Rick Wahler (bec1ce)

  20. What a great post, Dana.

    DRJ (15874d)

  21. There are people proposing the spire be replaced by a minaret. The strange death of Europe continues….

    harkin (ca2d1a)

  22. The video I linked in #18 is a homemade rooftop garden in Beijing that sorta got out of control.
    Fast forward to about minute 1:20 to enjoy the visual… the part where the guy who lives below the garden shows his leaky ceiling is predictable

    steveg (354706)

  23. I think my favorite comment to the Times Of London story about architects’ recommended changes including a minaret was:

    Why not just put the Eye Of Sauron up there?”

    harkin (ca2d1a)

  24. “Why not just put the Eye Of Sauron up there?”

    Because that’s planned for the new Goldman Sachs building in New York.

    Kevin M (21ca15)

  25. The private high-rise college dormitory that I lived in as an undergraduate in Austin, The Castilian, prudently devoted its first ten stories to parking. The 11th floor includes the front desk & lobby, the cafeteria, and a huge indoor pool made of steel. The eleven floors above that were basic dorm rooms.

    Because I was an RA there during my second year, I was obliged to spend time before and after the semester, during which the building was almost empty. During one such break, when I was also getting my SCUBA certification, I did some skills practice in the pool wearing my tank and regulator.

    Inevitably my steel air tank would bonk into the side of the pool, which, with the water acting as a giant amplifier, would ring like a giant gong. I was told by the others in the building that the sound was clearly audible — and very strange, hard to guess if you didn’t already know its source — and that under no circumstances was I to continue that practice once the residents showed up.

    I see they don’t advertise it in their promotional materials any more, so I assume they’ve drained it, floored it over, and made other use of it. I doubt that they pulled that giant steel tank out, though — that would have been quite the engineering challenge, I suspect.

    Beldar (fa637a)

  26. It is an excellent post, Dana, especially the images. Thank you.

    Beldar (fa637a)

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