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Maybe Notre Dame shouldn’t be rebuilt exactly as it was

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Should you chop down an ancient forest to rebuild an ancient cathedral? That’s one of the tough questions that France and all those around the world who adore Notre Dame may have to answer when the church eventually moves from catastrophe to the reconstruction phase. And even if they find the wood, do they want to replace the fire damage with the very same materials that went up in flames?

There will be plenty of time to ponder this–and many other questions to come. “Months of evaluation and information gathering will be required before anyone can even begin to think about what appropriate solutions would be,” says Peter Pfau, design director at the San Francisco studio of architecture and design firm Perkins Will.

“French authorities will [make] a very detailed assessment of what happened, and how different systems performed,” says Robert Kornfeld Jr., preservation architect and principal with engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti. Although his job is to maintain the historical integrity of buildings, Kornfeld isn’t an absolutist about copying the technology and methods of the past. What matters to him is to conserve the building’s aesthetics and the experience of visiting it.

“I think that everything that you could see will be built the way it was originally built,” says Kornfeld. “When you look up [from inside], you’ll see the stone vaulted ceiling. When you look from the outside, you’ll see the top of the roof, but they may modify the roof assembly itself.”

It’s happened before. The great cathedral of Reims lost its wooden roof when it was set ablaze by bombardment in World War I. The decades-long rebuilding included upgrading to a steel roof. (Restoration work on Notre Dame’s wooden structure likely caused the fire in the first place, a frequent peril during renovations.)


© Fast Company