In April, the world watched as the famed Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris began to burn. The 850-year-old building’s roof and spire were incinerated before fire fighters were able to put out the blaze. Just days after the building had been decimated, the French government announced a design competition to rebuild one of the country’s most-visited tourist attractions and historical monuments.
In the month since then, concepts from design studios around the globe have been pouring in as the debate about how best to rebuild the cathedral begins, with some insisting that Notre-Dame should be rebuilt exactly as it was, while others–most notably, architect Norman Foster–have proposed that it should be modernized. Here are six of the wildest ideas that designers have concocted to resurrect the famed church’s roof and spire.
A spiky, solar-powered roof
Why should we rebuild the Notre-Dame roof exactly as it was? The French architecture practice Vincent Callebaut Architectures proposes that the cathedral should be constructed to be more energy-efficient than it was before. The studio’s concept envisions timber beams reinforced with carbon fiber, combined with a glass roof that has a photovoltaic layer embedded within it. The energy captured by the solar roof would be stored in hydrogen fuel cells inside the cathedral.
Below the glass structure, the studio wants to transform the roof’s attic into an urban farm that uses aquaponics, where fish provide natural fertilizers for plants, to grow fruits and vegetables that the church could give away for free to people in need.
A greenhouse home for Notre Dame’s bugs
Summum imagines a greenhouse that isn’t accessible to the public but is designed instead as a home for birds and insects. “We truly think Notre Dame could be more that just a church or just a monument, that it could be a real world symbol for all animal species whose extinction has been caused by human activities,” studio director Abel Guillaume tells Fast Company via email. “[The] Notre Dame tragedy should serve the cause of the environment, the greatest struggle of humanness, by being a new world symbol for the present and future generations.” This sanctuary for birds and insects would be visible to everyone through the glass roof, and the greenhouse would be supported by a wooden structure below.
Like Summum, Studio Nab pays homage to some particularly important bugs at Notre Dame: the cathedral’s 180,000 bees, which have lived on the roof since 2013. The three hives luckily survived the fire, and Studio Nab’s concept provides a new home for the pollinators. Its concept for a greenhouse, however, is open to the public and would act as an educational hub for people to learn about urban agriculture. All of the planters would be made from the remaining charred wood that survived the fire.
A garden covered by a glass roof
Many of the people proposing ideas for Notre Dame must have green thumbs, because the Belgium-based visualization studio Miysis also wants to put a lot of plants in the cathedral’s roof. But unlike the others, Miysis thinks Notre-Dame’s greenhouse should be a garden for the public to enjoy. The studio proposes rebuilding an exact replica of the lost spire, but replacing the former wooden structure that supported the roof with a modern steel and timber version that could create the space for the garden.
Like many of these concepts, the studio’s vision is controversial because it proposes putting a glass roof on Notre Dame. But rest assured: Miysis says it has no intention of submitting it to the design competition. Instead, the concept is meant to be a personal meditation on the building.
A copper honeycomb beacon
In stark contrast to these green-minded designs, the Boulder, Colorado-based Studio Tjoa envisions a modern spire that’s made entirely of modular sand-casted copper panels. These are meant to reference the geometry of the cathedral’s Gothic arches. The roof is made of stainless steel, with rafters and trusses made from a type of laminated wood called glulam, a building material that is stronger than steel.
“The materials hint [at] the phoenix rising from the ashes,” design director Audrey Worden tells Fast Company via email. “In daylight, these panels cast shadows in a pattern of feathers, while at night the spire is illuminated from within, reflecting off the copper and creating the effect of a bright warm light as if from fire.”
It’s a very different vision from the others, with the idea that the spire in some way memorializes the fire while not trying to replicate the irreplaceable architecture that was lost.
A modernist glass extravagance
“Notre Dame will never be the same, no matter how well it’s repaired. So why don’t we use all our knowledge and architectural achievement to make it better?” writes Nerovnya on Instagram, where he shared his firm’s concept for a simple glass roof. “When people come to see the Cathedral they will feel a powerful connection to the history seeing the ancient and the modern parts together.” (It’s worth noting that many of his commenters certainly don’t agree; some argue the amount of light would ruin the experience of the stained glass windows, while others just want a replica of the previous roof.)
Poa Estudio reached a similar conclusion, and designed its glass vision for Notre Dame so that there’s no doubting it’s a modern addition. “Instead of trying to replicate the original roof, we understand that the fire is part of the history of Notre Dame, therefore it shouldn’t be camouflaged but praised,” partner Julio Rufián Andújar tells Fast Company via email. “We propose a new structure composed of glass panels that intends to be as light and transparent as possible, referencing on the rhythm of the existing Gothic structure, in order to avoid any visual confrontation with the existing remains.”
Like its concept for the roof, the studio’s vision for the spire is a similarly radical transformation from the original: it’s entirely made of glass.
A roof made of recycled ocean plastic
Like Vincent Callabaut Architectures, the Dutch artist collective Studio Drift thinks that the new Notre-Dame has an opportunity to be eco-friendly. The studio’s concept proposes covering Notre-Dame’s roof in blue tiles that are made from recycled plastic found in the oceans. Because the studio claims it will take thousands of trees to rebuild the roof, they propose using the money donated to rebuild the cathedral to clean up the oceans, and then transform the waste into blue tiles that will reflect the sky.
The idea is clearly speculative, but it raises an important point: Whatever the French government decides about the architectural approach to the new design, Notre-Dame should be rebuilt in a way that is as carbon-neutral and friendly to the environment as possible.