Notre-Dame de Paris: a report from the building site

23 juil. 2020

Work has begun again and restoration choices are being made!


After over a month of silence, the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris is filled again with the sound of voices and the noise of machines. Carpenters, rope technicians, crane operators, researchers and master glassmakers have gradually come back on site to measure, calculate, observe, build and imagine the future cathedral. The path to consolidating the structure of the cathedral is still a long one! 

After nearly a year of preliminary work, dismantling the scaffolding has finally started on 8 June. The steel giant, made up of 40 000 molten metal pieces, is still a threat for the building, so dismantling it is crucial to the restoration of Notre-Dame. The goal is now to remove it, without further destabilising the structure of the cathedral, or endangering the lives of the men performing this delicate task. Two teams of five rope technicians are currently on rotation every day, trying to get as close as possible to the burnt part, and using sabre saw blades to cut off the metallic tubes which got welded to one another in the fire. The parts of the scaffolding that are accessible using a nacelle, are being dismantled by scaffolding technicians. This project will go on throughout the summer. 

Another project began in early June: clearing and inspecting the vaults of the nave and the choir. The first step is to remove the burnt wood and the metal parts of the woodwork and the nave. It will then be possible to take a close look at the state of the mortar which provides joints between the stones, in order to find out how it resisted to the extremely high temperatures of the fire, the water infiltration that ensued, and the various meteorological events that took place since 15 April (strong summer heat, rain, cold…).

One part of the cathedral that held out very well is the organ. A true miracle survivor of the fire, the great symphonic organ of Notre-Dame de Paris escaped the flames as well as the gallons of water hosed by the firemen. The only issue is the dust and scoria that spread all over the instrument, and requires thorough cleaning. The 8000 tubes will be detached and cleaned one by one starting this summer. This project will take four to five months of work. 

The organ is not the only thing that needs dusting: the inside of the whole cathedral will get a great spring - or summer - cleaning, to clear and decontaminate it. A complete test cleaning of two chapels, Saint Ferdinand and Notre-Dame de Guadalupe, started in early July in order to decide on the appropriate restoration protocol and plan the interventions. 

While the safeguarding phase goes on, the time for major restoration choices has already come. The National Commission for Heritage and Architecture which took place on 9 July decided on an identical restoration of the roofing and spire. The decision was approved by the French President, who agreed to the general ideas presented by the chief architect Philippe Villeneuve. Instead of a “contemporary architectural design” - a possibility which was envisioned at one point for the spire - it has now been decided that the restored spire will be as close as possible to Viollet-le-Duc’s design. The diagnosis study, which is expected for the autumn of 2020, will present the planned works, as well as the relevant costs and timeline. Briefs will be prepared using this basis, in order for the main building projects to take place in 2021.

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