The scaffolding was erected after, in December 2015, the then president François Hollande had entrusted an architect and the president of the National Monuments Center with a plan for the revaluation of the Île de la Cité, the island in the middle of the Seine on the which is the Notre Dame cathedral, which the plan was to restore: especially to clean the exterior of the smog from the residues of the smog flèche, the large spire located above the intersection of the transept and the central nave (i.e. at the meeting point between the horizontal and vertical cross of the cross which serves as a plan for most Christian buildings).
In 2018 an extensive scaffolding was therefore built around the flèche: weighed over 200 tons, was made up of more than 40 thousand metal pipes, and was half more than 40 meters high (the flèche, the highest point of the cathedral, was 93 m high).
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On April 15, 2019 for reasons still unknown – the prevailing hypotheses are an electrical short circuit or a cigarette butt that has gone out badly – a fire developed in the attic, the space occupied by wooden structures located under the roof. The fire spread and reached the flèche, which after about an hour from the start of the fire, collapsed.
The metal scaffoldings resisted the fire, but were greatly damaged. At the beginning of the works following the fire, the structure had been stabilized through the construction of another scaffolding, which supports it, without further intervention. On Monday, the public company responsible for the reconstruction works started to dismantle it, one piece at a time. After the on-the-spot checks, the workers will arrive with the task of descending, hanging on a rope, to extract the pieces one by one. An almost 80 m high crane is already present on the construction site. It will serve to pull up the pieces after extraction.
A journalist from the French newspaper Le Figaro he compared this work to a game in shanghai, the game where you have to remove sticks from a structure without making others move, because you have to be careful that the huge scaffolding doesn’t collapse during the operation.
Work resumed on May 31, with new security measures, after the two-month interruption due to the coronavirus crisis. It was not the first slowdown they underwent: in the summer of 2019, the construction sites had been closed for a month due to an imprudent management of the presence of lead in the form of dust in the air, following its evaporation due to the fire. And during the following winter the very strong wind had further stopped operations.
These external elements have hampered a work that is already very delicate in itself. One of the main concerns, according to a documentary released by the French newspaper Le Monde, is worker safety.
Some areas of the cathedral are considered too dangerous to allow access and damage is ascertained thanks to drones that enter and collect debris, which are then organized into inventories and studied. They allow you to understand the details of the materials of the cathedral and plan their reconstruction. Carbonized wood is very precious for this purpose: its analysis allows to go back to the maximum temperature reached, and therefore to understand what the stones had to endure, the examination of which is more difficult. Wood is also important because for reasons of historical reconstruction: its study could allow us to trace the geographical and artisan origin of the materials, as well as to venture climatic hypotheses (through the observation of the annual cycles that are formed in the wood, more or less wide depending on the alternation of cold and hot weather).
According to the press release from the company in charge of the works, these will last all summer. Regarding what to do more generally of the reconstruction of damaged parts, a debate is underway that started immediately after the fire.
Two days after the accident, the French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, declared the opening of an international architecture competition to decide how to reconstruct the missing part of the building. Marine Le Pen, president of the far-right party Front Nationalhe replied with the campaign TouchePasANotreDame, “Do not touch Notre Dame”, to express the fear of building a modern structure that does not respect the aesthetics and history of the building.
According to architect Christiane Schmuckle-Mollard, who in the past worked on the restoration of the Strasbourg cathedral, a modern solution would be “safer and faster to rebuild”. A long article by Mediapart stresses that the debate does not only concern the practical dimension, but also the meaning of the building for the French national imagination and more generally the awareness of the historicity of artistic productions. The article mentions the reconstruction proposal by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte: to preserve the shape of the building by exploiting the potential of modern materials.
It is ironic that this debate concerns the restoration of the flèche, because the same spire was built in the nineteenth century and not respecting the aesthetic criteria of the thirteenth century. The original had been demolished at the end of the eighteenth century because, weakened by bad weather, it was becoming dangerous. The famous architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc took care of the restoration of the cathedral since 1857, and built a flèche in neo-Gothic style. And he was criticized for choosing not to reproduce the structure of the past and use a contemporary taste on an ancient building.
Whatever the choice, according to the journalist of Le Monde who had access to the construction site, the works are very far from facing this type of problem. The workers don’t even consider the “five year issue”, the time that President Emmanuel Macron announced for the rebuild, and according to Le Monde, “Nobody really believes it.” On the construction phase he says that «they are giving medicines, they are not asking themselves what cosmetic operation will be done in the end. For the moment, they are treating ».
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