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"We should not rush into rebuilding Notre-Dame" argue visionary architects on Notre-Dame competition

France Architecture News - Jun 18, 2019 - 00:51   3316 views

"We should not rush into rebuilding Notre-Dame", says Caroline Bos, co-founder of UNStudio, while Norman Foster, Winy Maas, and Benedetta Tagliabue support an international architecture competition on the historic Notre-Dame for which the Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced following a tragic fire exploded on April 15, 2019. 

While an international competition on Notre-Dame has not yet been officially announced, visionary architects have shared their thoughts on the international competition and the reconstruction of the Notre-Dame in which most of them support "the combination of old and new on the 850-year-old Gothic building.  

Image courtesy of Clem/Wikimedia Commons

Recently, the French Senators have passed a bill, saying that "the Notre-Cathedral must be built exactly how it was before the fire" in which its roof was majorly damaged and spire was collapsed. It means the new law casts a shadow on government's decision for an international competition for now. 

Speaking exclusively to World Architecture Community, Sir Norman Foster, founder of Foster + Partners, Winy Maas, co-founder of MVRDV and Benedetta Tagliabue, co-founder of Miralles Tagliabue EMBT supported the architectural competition to rebuild the Notre-Dame to some certain extent. 

"The decision to hold a competition for the rebuilding of Notre Dame is to be applauded because it is an acknowledgement of that tradition of new interventions and a pledge for its continuation," Norman Foster told World Architecture Community. 

"Otherwise, if the decision was to merely replicate the past then it would be pointless to hold a competition."

"The ideal outcome would be a respectful combination of the dominant old with the best of the new," Foster added.

Image courtesy of Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

President Emmanuel Macron had said the cathedral would be rebuilt "even more beautifully", by adding that he wanted the work done within five years. But according to experts, art historians and heritage bodies, five-year restoration deadline is impossible and it can be more complex and could take a decade or more. 

While Norman Foster, Winy Maas, Miralles Tagliabue share their positive approaches to the idea of international competition to rebuild the roof and the spire of the cathedral, Caroline Bos is much more reluctant on the decision since she finds "rebuilding or redesigning Notre-Dame would be uninspired." 

Bos said: "My view on the rebuilding of Notre-Dame is that we should do nothing – or at least resist rushing into anything for many years. Of course the structure must be made safe. But let’s do the bare minimum that is necessary, for now."

As World Architecture Community exclusively approached to the architects on the international competition and rebuilding of the Notre-Dame, WAC presents their exclusive statements to increase more voices and to evaluate the decision from more architectural perspective. See the architects' exclusive full statements on the Notre-Dame below:


Norman Foster. Image © Manolo Yllera

Norman Foster: "The ideal outcome would be a respectful combination of the dominant old with the best of the new"

Notre Dame de Paris is the ultimate high technology monument of its day in terms of Gothic engineering. Like many cathedrals, its history is one of change and renewal over the centuries."

The spire that was destroyed in the tragic fire of this week dates back to 1844 and was the result of a competition won by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc following the desecrations of the French Revolution. This replaced the original spire which was taken down in 1786.

Over the centuries, the roofs of medieval cathedrals have been ravaged by fires and replaced – for example Chartres in 1194 and 1836, Metz in 1877. In every case, the replacement used the most advanced building technology of the age – it never replicated the original. In Chartres, the twelfth century timbers were replaced in the nineteenth century by a new structure of cast iron and copper.

The decision to hold a competition for the rebuilding of Notre Dame is to be applauded because it is an acknowledgement of that tradition of new interventions and a pledge for its continuation. Otherwise, if the decision was to merely replicate the past then it would be pointless to hold a competition.

As an aside, the roof that has been destroyed had wooden frames – each was made from an individual oak tree – 1,300 in total. Hence its nickname of “The Forest”. It was rarely visited so, surely, this is an opportunity to recreate a once hidden – and now destroyed – timber structure with a modern, fireproof, lightweight replacement.

The ideal outcome would be a respectful combination of the dominant old with the best of the new. France has an enviable reputation for the realisation of Grand Projects. Given this background, there is no reason why President Macron’s optimistic commitment cannot be achieved: "We’ll rebuild Notre Dame even more beautifully and I want it to be completed in five years. We can do it."

Caroline Bos. Image © Inga Powilleit

Caroline Bos: "We should not rush into rebuilding Notre-Dame"

My view on the rebuilding of Notre-Dame is that we should do nothing – or at least resist rushing into anything for many years. Of course the structure must be made safe. But let’s do the bare minimum that is necessary, for now. 

Notre-Dame has a complex history. The first Notre Dame was built between the 11 and 13th centuries. Its piecemeal growth depended upon the imagination and skills of many people – almost how a city is built. This is the Notre-Dame I would like to see revived, ultimately. And for that we need the same patience and trust in the talents of future generations that the medieval masters must have had.

I understand the impulse to want to take immediate action. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire world is experiencing a sense of mourning. It is almost incomprehensible that such a building, one of Europe’s biggest, best loved, and most visited treasures, has been damaged to this extent – veering on total destruction. Naturally, it is tempting to want to end this pain immediately. It is classic denial.

The solution sought is to have an architectural competition.Yet I find that either rebuilding or redesigning Notre-Dame would be uninspired.What we have actually lost is the comprehensive restoration of the cathedral that took place in the 19th Century. Our current generation has known nothing else and cannot imagine anything else. The Notre-Dame we have lost is too heavily imprinted on our collective cultural consciousness to be re-envisioned quickly. We all need to learn to live with our loss for a while. To become reacquainted with Paris, with the Ile de la Cite in its current state. It takes time.

Let time be allowed to do its work. That is my plea, as an urbanist.

This leads me to a second point. We are still in the midst of a hyper active period of construction that has been guided by immediacy and opportunity. This has been necessary in the face of urbanization, densification and the growing population of our cities – and I, as co-founder of UNStudio continue to take on these challenges with conviction. However, we should ask ourselves whether the current conditions under which architecture operates is appropriate when thinking about what is to happen with Notre-Dame. This is not to criticize contemporary architecture, which is still thoughtful and considered, but we should ask whether today’s fast, driven and high-pressure modus operandi resonates with Notre-Dame’s long history. If not, maybe this is an opportunity to experiment with a new kind, or perhaps and old kind, of architectural approach.

It is also for this reason that I feel we should leave Notre-Dame to be rebuilt by future generations: by teams of designers who have not yet been born, and who never knew the old Notre-Dame. Preferably, in my view at least, this rebuild should happen incrementally and sensibly. As in many aspects of our lives today, just because we want to do something now and just because we have the capacity to start tomorrow, does not mean that it is the right thing to do for future generations. 

Winy Maas. Image © Christiaan Krouwels

Winy Maas: "Reconstruction of the Notre-Dame should include non architects!"

It is a good idea to make an international competition on the restoration of the Notre-Dame. That should include non architects!

But who will decide?

Benedetta Tagliabue. Image © Vicens Gimenez

Benedetta Tagliabue: "Small details can be changed, can be made better"

I love the idea of a design competition for the reconstruction of the Notre Dame Cathedral spire, beacause I think there is no such a thing as the kind of knowledge on patrimoine. I think the heritage we received arose from creativity and creativity has to renew itself in time. Even if all of us want to see Notre-Dame rebuilt as it was, small details can be changed, can be made better. 

The spire was something new compared to the rest of the church and it was done by a fantastic artist, such as Viollet Le Duc, so I think it is a possibility to do a new type of spire with new technologies, new capacities and also fantastic geometries. This would remind the existing one but would be something very special in the panorama of reconstructions of our century. I think and I hope that this competition will be open to multi-task teams and will give a lot of space and a lot of consideration to new creativity within tradition.


A new restoration bill was approved by the French Senate and it stated that the cathedral "must be restored to the state it was before the blaze". However, the new bill creates an opposition to French president Emmanuel Macron’s call for "inventive spire that is adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era".

The new law ensures the fully restored building to be completed in time for the Paris Olympics in 2024, but it requires that the "restoration should be faithful to the “last known visual state” of the cathedral. 

After the announcement of an international competition, many architects proposed new visions to design a new roof and spire for the cathedral which suits Macron's call. The designs include Studio NAB's Greenhouse Roof, Vincent Callebaut's biosourced spire and 3D Gothic stained glass roof and Miysis' fully-glazed roof and spire that protects the structure's originality.