The Battle for the Restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral Will Begin in the Spring

March 18, 2020

On April 15, 2019, almost a year ago, the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral was ravaged by a fire, the origin of which is still unknown. The chief architect of historic monuments has taken stock of the work and is worried about the choices that will be made for the restoration of the building, in particular the spire.

The months have passed, and the emblematic edifice of the French capital, still partially covered with scaffolding, has been the subject of meticulous attention from the technicians responsible for the security of the structure. The operations are directed by Philippe Villeneuve, chief architect of historic monuments. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on February 21, 2020, he did not hide his concerns.

Once the scaffolding has been removed—which would have happened in the spring if construction had not been halted due to the coronavirus epidemic—the reconstruction proposals will be discussed in detail. But these discussions already promise to be difficult.

Philippe Villeneuve maintains that there are mainly two positions concerning the restoration of the cathedral, in particular of the spire: on one side is that of the President of the Republic who wishes a “contemporary” restoration, in line with what has been done elsewhere in Paris, at the Pompidou Center or with the inverted pyramid at the Carrousel du Louvre.

On the other side, there are those—including the chief architect of historic monuments—who wish, out of respect for the building, an identical restoration: “in reconstructing the cathedral,” explains Philippe Villeneuve, “we have to be incredibly prudent, have infinite respect, and, above all, leave no trace of our passage. In a word, we must be sober.”

For now, it seems that the French Parliament shares this sobriety: in a bill passed in the summer of 2019, the deputies entrusted the executive with the mission of bringing the cathedral back to the appearance it had before the disaster.

But, as The Wall Street Journal reports, the French government has some freedom to modify the restoration project.

Given that Emmanuel Macron has committed to completing the reconstruction of the building within five years,—that is to say before the Paris Olympics in 2024—the head of state’s proposals should be known in the coming months. However, the coronavirus crisis has already thwarted this desire to act quickly. The construction site is on track to overrun the time of the current five-year period.