France decides to rebuild Notre-Dame as it was before fire

Macron rejects proposals to add modern flourish to spire destroyed in last year’s blaze

 Notre-Dame cathedral on the eve of the first anniversary of the violent fire in April. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images

Notre-Dame cathedral on the eve of the first anniversary of the violent fire in April. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images


France has decided that the restoration of Notre-Dame after a devastating fire last year will stick closely to the cathedral’s former design, rejecting proposals to add a modern architectural flourish to the destroyed spire.

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, made the final decision on Thursday after a meeting with the country’s chief architect for historic monuments, and the national heritage and architecture commission (CNPA).

“After the consultations today, the president became convinced of the need to restore Notre-Dame of Paris in such a way that conforms as much as possible to its former complete, coherent and known state,” said a source for the Elysée Palace.

Mr Macron “has trusted the expertise of the CNPA to orient the choices of the restoration of the spire, wooden frame and roof of the cathedral”.

The decision comes after Mr Macron’s administration initially appeared open to considering alternative designs for the rebuilding of the 13th century Gothic masterpiece, which has been closed to the public since the fire.

In May 2019, the government said it would hold an international architecture competition over how to rebuild the metal spire, which burnt and crashed through the roof. The spire was not part of the original design and was only added in the mid-1800s during a restoration led by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

“The international competition will allow us to ask the question of whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc,” Edouard Philippe, prime minister, said at the time. “Or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire.”

A number of architects and designers have released designs for how to rebuild Notre-Dame while adding a touch of modernity.

One, from Vincent Callebaut, featured a curvy roof and spire made of glass, oak and carbon fibre, and included solar panels and an urban farm. Another from artist Alexandre Fantozzi imagined a new roof and spire built out of coloured stained glass.

Work at the Notre-Dame site was halted for several months because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but has now restarted.

Workers recently began the delicate task of removing hundreds of tonnes of metal scaffolding that the fire had reduced to a tangled mess around the cathedral. It was in place for restoration work already under way when the fire began.

Mr Macron has set an ambitious goal of reopening Notre-Dame to the public again by 2024 when Paris hosts the Olympic Games. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020