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The best idea for Notre-Dame has nothing to do with the spire

The French government says it will restore Notre-Dame to its original state—but these architects want to turn the construction itself into a work of art.

The best idea for Notre-Dame has nothing to do with the spire
[Image: courtesy Soltani+LeClerq]

In May, French politicians voted to require that the restoration of Notre-Dame be an exact replica of the original cathedral. However, they didn’t say anything about what the scaffolding itself needs to look like—and one architecture firm has its own ideas for that.

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The New York-based designers at Soltani+LeClerq propose turning the restoration project into a form of art. They envision surrounding the construction site with a translucent veil of semi-transparent membrane, hung from scaffolding erected around the reconstruction. The structure would include a ramp to let visitors walk around the work site, observing from above, and would also create space for exhibitions about Notre-Dame and its restoration.

[Image: courtesy Soltani+LeClerq]

It’s a great idea that leaves the original structure completely untouched and makes it more accessible to the public—while adding an ephemeral new dimension to the monument.

Architect Ali Soltani and artist Francine LeClerq say their idea emerged from the initial fire. They experienced “a great sense of loss and a rush of adrenaline to want to counter a disaster as big as this one with a greater creative force,” the duo explains over email. “Seeing the cloud of smoke shrouding the cathedral became a fixed image, a cocoon of sorts through which the process of restoration would take shape.”

[Image: courtesy Soltani+LeClerq]

For them, the concept of veiling the cathedral also nods to transformation of Notre-Dame throughout more than eight centuries, which has been “a continuous process of restoration ever since its inception, albeit an invisible one.”

[Image: courtesy Soltani+LeClerq]

Their proposal was inspired by several other sources: Thekla, the city in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, existed under a permanent scaffold as it was continually rebuilt based on the stars. They found inspiration in Michael Graves’s Washington Monument Restoration, and the recent restoration of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House by Carmody Groarke Architects—”and as you point out,” they add, “Jeanne Claude and Christo, and more pertinently the work of Robert Irwin, in particular Homage to the Square.” This isn’t the first time that Soltani and LeClerq have worked on scaffolding. One of their projects in Karaj, Iran, is essentially a scaffold—a perpetual construction.

So, have French authorities responded to their proposal? No luck yet, which is too bad, because the construction project is a great chance to temporarily create a new point of interest in the city—while celebrating the cathedral and the restoration process itself.

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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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