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Notre Dame Cathedral’s spire will be rebuilt to pre-fire status

Sacre Bleu

Notre Dame Cathedral’s spire will be rebuilt to pre-fire status

The rear edifice of Notre Dame Cathedral shortly after the April 2019 fire that gutted its roof and interior. (Tayla Bundschuh/Unsplash)

It’s official: After months of delays, arguing, and coronavirus and lead contamination-induced construction pauses, French President Emmanuel Macron has decided that Notre Dame Cathedral’s 19th-century spire will be restored to its original state. The 300-foot-tall spire, toppled by the fire that gutted the Parisian landmark last April, had become a contentious topic of debate for the reconstruction commission, which was tasked with revitalizing the (still endangered) cathedral in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

The contention over staging an international design competition to replace Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s original spire with a more modern design may have played a part in President Macron’s decision yesterday. According to the BBC, the Elysée relayed President Macron’s concerns that a drawn-out process could cause France to meet its 2024 completion target, and his main concern was “not delaying the reconstruction and making it complicated – things had to be cleared up quickly.”

That edict came directly after Philippe Villeneuve, chief architect behind the restoration, testified before the National Heritage and Architecture Commission yesterday that his preference was to rebuild the spire as it stood before. In the past, Villeneuve has sparred with General Jean-Louis Georgelin, who is in charge of making sure the restoration proceeds as scheduled, but the final decision was always in the president’s hands. To date, $1 billion has been raised by private donors and the French government to finance the project.

In the weeks following the structural fire that tore through Notre Dame, architects jumped at the chance to design new glass roof systems and modernist spires to replace Viollet-le-Duc’s design, seemingly encouraged by President Macron’s willingness to update the UNESCO World Heritage Site. On several occasions, Macron has pointed out that the spire was a later addition to the original 12th-century cathedral, which itself was assembled piecemeal as the original structure underwent numerous expansions.

With the design guidelines set, the project’s next major task will be removing the 50,000 pieces of scaffolding, bent in the April fire, at the cathedral’s rear. According to General Georgelin, the process should be completed in September, and work on the restoration proper can then begin.

As far as the replacement spire and roof, which famously housed a tangle of thick supportive wooden trusses dubbed “the forest,” the debate is still ongoing whether to return to timber and lead or use more modern, fire-resistant (and less ecologically destructive) materials.