The artists wanted a new experimental spire for Notre-Dame. The French Senate has now assured that this will never happen
A 300-foot-high flame sculpture, a beam of light and a tower that resembles a spaceship are among the bizarre proposals put forward by the architects to replace the legendary spire of Notre Dame, which collapsed during the devastating fire in the cathedral in April. But in the end, none of these architectural follies are likely to come true. On Monday, the French Senate voted that the cathedral should be restored to look as similar as possible to how it looked before the fire.
The decision comes amid a fierce debate in France over the best course of action to restore the building. Two days after the fire, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that he would launch an international architectural competition to rebuild the spire. (The original spire was built in the 13th century, but was recreated in the 19th century by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. This version, now destroyed, was made of oak covered with lead.
It didn’t take long for the reconstruction to become the symbol of a larger battle in France between those who seek to preserve traditions and those who want it to modernize. French President Emmanuel Macron said he was not opposed to a “contemporary architectural gesture” that could make Notre-Dame “even more beautiful”.
Over the past month and a half, dozens of artists and architects have signed up to enter the competition, including Belgian concept artist Wim Delvoye and British architectural firm Foster + Partners. Among the dozens of proposals, some concerned the transformation of the roof into a public green space or the replacement of the entire roof with stained glass.
The Senate directive for a traditional spire was added to a larger bill governing the proposed restoration, which had already been passed by the French Parliament. The new bill also controversially states that the restoration aims to be completed by 2024, in time for the Paris Olympics. This deadline, first proposed by Macron, has been criticized by experts, historians and environmentalists who say it is not safe to rush such a complex project. (Last month, around 1,600 curators, restorers, architects and other experts, including former Met director Philippe de Montebello, signed an open letter in Le Figaro warning against hasty restoration.)
The French Senate also removed a clause from the bill that would have given the government the power to waive regulations on environmental and heritage laws that traditionally govern construction projects in order to speed up the process. Finally, the bill proposes the creation of a new agency under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture, responsible for piloting the project.
The revised bill will now be sent back to parliament so that the two bodies can agree before it is enacted.
Additional reporting by Katie White
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