Not a single stone, nail, or plank of wood will change. That’s the French senate’s final word on the restoration of Notre-Dame, the Parisian cathedral heavily damaged in a fire on April 15. The senate has amended the law that ordered its restoration to avoid any potential experiments–of which there have been dozens over the past month, from famous architects and the public alike.
The law was originally put forward by President Emmanuel Macron and the French assembly (the equivalent to the U.S. House of Representatives) after the fire opened an international competition to redesign the ruined parts of the cathedral–part of Macron’s pledge to have the cathedral fixed in time for the Paris Olympic games in July of 2024.
According to Le Monde, the law has been heavily criticized by the French senate, which is dominated by conservatives. The French newspaper reports that the President’s opposition labeled Macron’s bill “an exceptional law drafted in haste,” and now that law has largely changed to avoid any potential design changes. According to Jacques Grosperrin, senator for Les Républicains, “the long time, the time of the cathedrals, is not the political time.” Historians and restoration architects have warned against the five-year schedule proposed by Macron, arguing that it’s virutally impossible to complete the restoration on such a short time frame.
The restoration will thus need to be completely faithful to the “last known visual state” of the church before the disaster. In its revision of the bill, the senate opposition erased an article about the project having license to ignore French laws on environmental protection, urban planning, public budget procurement, and perhaps more importantly, heritage preservation.
The materials used in the restoration will have to be exactly the same as the ones destroyed, as well. That stipulation has been slammed by critics, who argue that will be extremely hard from a technical point of view–because there are simply no people trained in the arts needed to restore the cathedral using medieval techniques. Furthermore, restoring the cathedral using the exact same materials will require wood and stone that are simply not available in France at this point–unless you are willing to destroy important natural reserves–which would make the project less than sustainable. Indeed, some architects and experts believe that’s one of the reasons Notre-Dame shouldn’t be restored as an exact replica (in addition to safety concerns).
The restoration will be overseen by a special public corporation established by the Ministry of Culture, which will have plenty of documentation material to make sure the cathedral is rebuilt exactly as it was. But for now, it seems likely that the debate over the building’s future is far from over.