After seeing the images of the fire damage in Notre Dame it seems a relief that it was only the roof that burned and the structure itself remains intact and fit for restoration.
Some of the beautiful Gothic cathedrals we have today were without roofs for years, some even for decades, and they survived. Stone is magical building material. Seriously – this fire wasn’t nearly as bad as the drama around it led it on to be.
For example, the roof of Saint Denis Basilica was open to the elements from approximately 1793 – 1814 when repairs were begun:
Chateaubriand, in his “Génie du Christianisme”, describes this ruin: “Saint-Denis is deserted. Birds fly in and out, grass grows on its smashed altars and all one can hear is the dripping of water through its open roof”. — from Saint Denis Basilica
And in 1847, Saint Denis lost its North Tower due to storm damage.
Another famous Gothic structure, Chartres Cathedral lost its roof twice. Once in 1194 and also on June 4th, 1896:
On June 4, 1836, following the carelessness of plumbers who were making repairs, a fire broke out in the roofing timbers. The fire spread quickly, destroying the wood frame, (called) the forest, and the lead roof of Chartres cathedral. Fortunately, the fire did not advance into the bell tower. There, the great bell was not harmed, sounding for half an hour. Many lower bells were lost, to be replaced in 1840 and 1845 by those still rung today. The roof was replaced by a beautiful iron frame and a copper roof, built in metal for future safety and for (its) economy … — abelard.org
Many gothic structures all over Europe have been damaged by fire, including cathedrals like Canterbury, or St. Stephens in Vienna. The Cologne Cathedral took over 600 years to build, standing unfinished for about 350 of them. Even though it was finished in 1880, it was damaged in WWII and has gone through major repair work. Beauvais is held together with rebar supports. The weather is not going to damage Notre Dame further.
Gothic cathedrals are more than just places of worship. Some of these structures took centuries to build, some are not even finished to this day. They are architectural marvels and a testament to the power of humans working together to build something colossal.
Notre Dame is not my favorite Gothic structure. At least not inside it. I had always found it to be too dark, too oppressive. I always looked at is as a landmark, like many of the French people do. Point Zero, the place from which all distances in France are measured, sits outside of its doors in the plaza. Walking by it is like knowing that I am, actually, really, in Paris.
The burning of Notre Dame is sad, yes, but now we move on to the more interesting drama of deciding what kind of roof to put onto it – rebuild the old roof as it was, if we can find the lumber to do so, or go with something more modern/contemporary like the pyramid at the Louvre? Remember that ruckus?
While Notre Dame is a symbol of Gothic architecture, we also have a chance to put our mark on architectural history. Do we want another iron or copper or metal roof? Do we want to make her look exactly like she was? I would love to see something more contemporary rise above the stone walls. She sits directly in between the Louvre and Institut du Monde Arabe. Why not a glass roof – like the pyramid at the Louvre – with passive solar panels – like the ones that shade the windows at the Institut – to regulate the temperature of the cathedral on sunny days. The premise of Gothic architecture was to “come out of the dark and into the light”, so why not finally let the light in, in all of it’s glory?
What kind of roof would you like to see put on for the restoration? Let’s visualize it in the comments below.