France will open the redesign of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral’s historic spire to international architects after Monday night’s catastrophic blaze that gutted the centuries-old roof and sent the towering spire crashing through the vaulted ceiling.
The government’s announcement on Wednesday added to a question many are asking as France grieves for its national symbol – whether the familiar outline at the heart of the capital should be restored as it was or given a modern twist.
President Emmanuel Macron pledged in a prime-time address to the nation on Tuesday that Notre-Dame would be rebuilt within five years. Tycoons, international firms, local authorities, and individuals have promised financial and expert help – with a total of nearly 900 million euros pledged by Wednesday.
The cathedral was built over nearly 200 years starting in the middle of the 12th century, although it was only in the mid-1800s that architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc added the lead-covered spire during restoration work.
“The international competition will allow us to ask the question of whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.
“Or whether, as is often the case during the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire that reflects the techniques and challenges of our era.”
Monday’s inferno devastated a world treasure, prompting an outpouring of collective sorrow and soul-searching in France over whether to recreate the destroyed oak-framed roofing and spire or adapt the cathedral to the 21st century.
As Philippe spoke, firefighters were working to stabilize a fire-ravaged pinnacle that houses one of Notre-Dame’s 13th-century stained-glass rose windows.
There was no immediate danger that the structure would topple but statues were also being removed to reduce the risk of movement, the fire service’s spokesman said.
“Today, there is no risk of collapse. Our priority is to stabilize the pinnacles which are weakened since they are no longer held up by the roof and its frame,” Lieutenant-Colonel Gabriel Plus told Reuters.
US President Donald Trump had a phone call with Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, on Wednesday to offer condolences over the fire. Trump said in a tweet he had offered the help of “our great experts on renovation and construction.”
France asks: Should Notre-Dame’s spire be rebuilt as it was?