No modern twists as France decides to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral as before

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Notre Dame Cathedral will be rebuilt just the way it stood before last year’s devastating fire.

No swimming pool or organic garden on the roof of the medieval Paris monument, or contemporary glass spire, or other modern twists. And to stay historically accurate, it will again be built with potentially toxic lead.

That’s the verdict reached by French President Emmanuel Macron, the cathedral’s present-day architects and the general in charge of the colossal reconstruction project for one of the world’s most treasured landmarks.

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Macron, who wants Notre Dame reopened in time for the 2024 Olympics, had initially pushed for a contemporary touch atop the cathedral, prompting eye-catching proposals from architects around the world.

But Macron came around to the traditionalists’ argument, and approved reconstruction plans for the 12th century monument that were presented on Thursday, according to a statement from state agency overseeing the project.

Former French Culture Minister Jack Lang reacts after visiting Notre-Dame cathedral, on July 10, 2020 in Strasbourg, eastern France. (AFP)
Former French Culture Minister Jack Lang reacts after visiting Notre-Dame cathedral, on July 10, 2020 in Strasbourg, eastern France. (AFP)

The plan includes recreating the 19th-century spire by Viollet Le Duc that collapsed in the fire, and “favors fidelity to the monument’s form and a restoration of the cathedral in its latest state,” the statement said.

That means the state Notre Dame was in the afternoon of April 15, 2019, before fire broke out beneath its roof, toppling its spire, consuming the roof and threatening the rose-windowed twin towers that keep the cathedral upright.

More than a year later, the structure remains unstable. It took nearly a year to clear out dangerous lead residue released in the fire and to get to the point where workers could start removing scaffolding that had been in place before the fire for a previous renovation effort. Actual reconstruction won’t start until next year.

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The reconstruction plan presented on Thursday says it will replicate original materials “to guarantee the authenticity, harmony and coherence of this masterpiece of Gothic art.”

Those materials originally include tons of lead, which is raising concerns among health and environmental groups. Toxic lead spewed by the fire forced schools in the area to close and prompted a lengthy, painstaking cleanup effort of the historic neighborhood on an island in the center of Paris.

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