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The Notre-Dame fire’s ashes could be used to 3D-print its new gargoyles

A Dutch company promises that it can use broken stone and ash to print perfect replicas of its ornate stonework.

The Notre-Dame fire’s ashes could be used to 3D-print its new gargoyles
[Photos: Concr3de, Hannah Reding/Unsplash]

When Notre-Dame was partially destroyed during a fire this month, the world mourned not just the loss of the building, but the ornate stone details that didn’t survive. Architecture firms are already racing to propose plans to rebuild the cathedral’s roof, but one company is proposing a plan to resuscitate its fallen gargoyles and chimeras–by transforming the rubble and ashes into material that can be 3D-printed into exact replicas.

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Notre Dame’s gargoyles don’t just spiritually guard the cathedral and the city of Paris. They also serve a real function purpose, as well, protecting the building against water erosion by channeling the rain and spouting it onto the ground. In fact, that–more than the inferno–is the more common reason for their demise. Before the blaze, many of the gargoyles had already been replaced by ugly PVC elements.

Concr3De, a Dutch company that specializes in stone 3D printing for construction, claims it has the perfect recipe to bring all of those broken monsters back to life using their remains. The company says that it can grind the limestone rubble and the fire ashes and combine the mixture with other materials to create a fine powder to feed its stone printers. The printers will then follow highly precise 3D models of the Notre-Dame stonework, captured back in 2000. The models, created by the late Belgian-American art professor Andrew Tallon, are stunningly detailed:

In a 2015 interview, Tallon described how he scanned the building over five days of work using a Leica ScanStation C10, looking for new answers about its nature. With the help of Columbia University’s computer science professor Paul Blaer, he produced a 1-billion-point model that offers millimetric precision. So, at least in theory, Concr3De’s final printed copies could be exactly like the originals–with the added bonus of being made from some of the very same material.

Concr3De’s cofounder, Eric Geboers, told Dezeen that he believes this method of reconstruction could reconcile some of the philosophical problems with reconstruction: “Isn’t a copy just a fake? Simply copying, pretending there never was a fire, would be a historical forgery.”

The French government, however, will reportedly go literally medieval on the cathedral restoration, using sculptors and artisans to make reproductions with the same techniques and materials employed in the 13th century. Of course, that will require a lot more time and money. And there’s an honesty to using the existing material that creating new copies can’t match–gargoyles rising from their ashes even has a poetic significance worthy of a 21st century Victor Hugo novel.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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