In Brief

France opts to restore Notre Dame's spire


13 July 2020

France has decided that the restoration of Notre Dame will not include any new architectural proposals, and will instead restore the cathedral as closely as possible to its state before the April 2019 fire that destroyed the building's spire.

The decision was taken by French president Emmanuel Macron following a meeting with Philippe Villeneuve, the countrry's chief architect for historic monuments, and the national heritage and architecture commission (CNPA).

A source for the Elysée Palace said: “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.”

The source said that Macron had “trusted the expertise of the CNPA to orient the choices of the restoration of the spire, wooden frame and roof of the cathedral”.

Soon after the fire, Macron had suggested that the building's ruined spire might be replaced with “a contemporary architectural gesture”. The spire had been added to the cathedral in the 19th century as part of a restoration effort led by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

In May 2019, the government announced plans to host an international architecture competition over how to rebuild the spire. “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,” said Edouard Philippe, France's then prime minister. “Or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire.”

A sign that France was moving away from a contemporary addition, however, came from France's culture minister Roseline Bachelot last week. Speaking on the radio, Bachelot said that there was a “large consensus” among the public and historic buildings experts to recreate Viollet-le-Duc's spire.

While restoration work on the cathedral had been halted by Covid-19, the project has now restarted. Workers are currently tasked with removing 50,000 tubes of twisted scaffolding at the back of the cathedral – the first stage in Macron's ambitious plan for the restoration to be completed in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The decision to recreate the spire has not, French media reported, settled other questions around the restoration. There are health questions over a lead roof, for instance, as well as debate around whether the cathedral's new rafters should be wooden like their forebears, or made of a more resilient contemporary material.