Regardless of your religion, the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral was devastating for so many of us. I had come home for lunch, turned on the TV, and saw this happen live. It was hard to believe because that church is part of architectural history and despite its tumultuous past, it gave the impression it would be around forever. I got the same eerie feeling as when the Twin Towers collapsed in New York City we couldn’t possibly imagine this, yet there it was unfolding on TV. The crazy thing was that the church took over a century to build and yet was in peril of being lost forever in a matter of hours. Fortunately, the masonry portions of the building remain. But now what?
There is no question that Notre Dame needs to be restored, because it isn’t going to be torn down. When the cathedral is rebuilt, all of the latest safety systems, including fire sprinklers and more, should be part of the renovation. But there are two ways to go about that: restore it to exactly as it had been before the fire or transform it during the restoration process? I’ve seen some visuals from the architecture firm that proposed a glass roof. At first, I thought, how could you do that? But my next thought was … that’s inspiring!
The world lost I.M. Pei recently as well. His glass pyramid at the Louvre wasn’t accepted at first, but now it’s iconic. The same is true of Picasso’s sculpture on our own Daley Plaza. When it was first installed, people said, “What the hell is it?” Now many cherish these works.
There’s good and bad when it comes to unique design. If it’s something that turns out to be a classic look, such as unique styles introduced by famous architects that become iconic, that’s a good thing. On the other hand, look at the Helmut Jahn building, James R. Thompson Center, which is still up but there’s talk about selling and/or demolishing it.
Going back to the Twin Towers, there was a design competition and there was controversy. I don’t think anyone would have suggested rebuilding the same buildings. No one said “Let’s pull out the same drawings.” Instead, the design had to respond to our current era, the current mindset. The glass structure now tapers toward the sky. It is totally different and now seems accepted.
In some way, we wanted to blot out what happened. And with the cathedral? Since we don’t want to blot it out, many make the case for restoring it just as it was. As I read more, though, it’s clear that it and so many other historic buildings have been modified for the better over the years.
Things happened during history before the Notre Dame burning; there were two World Wars fought in France for starters. Nothing remains static. I’m a big believer in making a new statement of sorts to show that it’s risen again, which could serve as a symbol of spiritual renewal in Catholicism. Rising up from the ashes, like Jesus rising from the dead: there is hope.
(As of press time, the French authorities have announced that Notre Dame Cathedral will be rebuilt true to the original.)