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The devastating 2019 fire in Notre-Dame Cathedral will result not only in a major renovation for the cathedral but also for the surrounding gardens, parvis and neighborhood streets. The result, according to the City of Paris, will be to improve and expand visitors’ connection to the cathedral and the Seine while providing a comfortable green space that assists with managing the higher temperatures from climate change.
The project will have three focuses. The parks around the cathedral will be merged into a continuous area by eliminating fences and high hedges so visitors can have closer views of the flying buttresses, stained glass windows and a closer relationship with the Seine. More trees will be planted for shade in the parks and the parvis, plus a thin layer of water will trickle in front of the cathedral to help lower temperatures during heat waves. The current underground parking lot will be transformed into an underground walkway that opens onto the Seine with a welcome center/reception area and access to the ancient remains of the Gallic Lutetia docks.
The idea is to improve the visitor experience plus attract Paris’s citizens who rarely go to the area. Before the fire, the cathedral attracted an average of 12 million visitors a year creating long lines that filled the parvis and the surrounding streets but few residents.
“This vast project aims to bring Parisians back to the cradle of Paris and welcome many visitors in better conditions,” claims the City of Paris announcement.
Notre-Dame cathedral will reopen in time for the 2024 Olympics and the surrounding area renovation will start in the second half of 2024 when the site is free of scaffolding and construction buildings. It is expected to be finished in 2027. The city recently held a competition for renovation plans and the winner was Bas Smets, a Belgian landscape architect. The team also includes GRAU, a French architecture and urbanism studio and Neufville-Gayet, a French architecture agency. It will cost 50 million euros and be financed by the City of Paris.
“For 800 years, Notre-Dame has been a privileged witness to the transformation of the city,” said Mr. Smets. “Rethinking its surroundings means first question which public spaces are for the city of tomorrow. The urban figures such as the forecourt, square, alignment and (river) banks are all present around the cathedral but in a fragmented way. The project reveals the quality of each place and rethinks each of these figures from the double angle of the collective and the climate.”
The forecourt of the parvis will be designed as a “clearing” which will highlight the façade of the cathedral in a green setting where trees will provide shade for benches and seats. One cooling innovation is a thin, five-millimeter sheet of water that will stream down the square in front of the cathedral during higher temperatures. It is expected that this will lower the temperature in the parvis by several degrees without flooding the area. Plus, it will add a shimmering and reflective addition to photographs, officials proclaim.
The underground car park will become an interior promenade that will house 3,000 square meters of reception areas for groups, a luggage room and toilets. It will open to the banks of the Seine for a new view of the cathedral and will provide new access to the archaeological crypt. Current access to the crypt is downstairs at the end of the parvis along Rue de la Cité and often isn’t noticed by tourists. By having the entrance close to where visitors gather, more visitors will discover and experience the ancient docks of Lutetia and the history of Paris.
The southern gardens and all existing trees, plus 131 new ones, will be integrated into a 400-meter riverside park with an increase of about 36% vegetation. The Jean XXIII Square, which is the park behind the cathedral, will be opened with new lawns extending to the edge of the île de la Cité (the island on which the cathedral is built). The southern park along the parameter of Notre-Dame will also reopen creating a 1,300-foot park where visitors can get close to admire the cathedral’s architecture.
According to the City of Paris, the main ambition of the redevelopment is to bring Parisians back to the cradle of Paris and welcome visitors in better conditions. This required a total rethink of the flows of visitors, continuity with the Seine, routes through the island and perspectives of the site. Key was to preserve and reveal the historical, heritage and landscape richness of Notre-Dame’s site by revealing the great perspectives of the cathedral. That required diversifying uses of what is there, offering a smooth and pleasant welcome to all audiences including tourists, residents, workers, worshippers, etc., while also strengthening the environmental quality of the site.
Notre-Dame Cathedral has gone through much damage and renovations since its construction that started in 1163. It took almost 100 years for its initial completion but it was modified frequently in the following centuries and often damaged as politics and fashion changed. In the 1790s it suffered extensive damage during the French Revolution and repairing it was ignored until the 1831 publication of Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. That led to a major restoration between 1844 and 1864 which included the wooden roof beams and spire that burned in 2019.
The cathedral’s renovation, coupled with the current rethinking of transforming the site to meet today’s climate issues, once again shows how important Notre-Dame is to Paris and the world. Today, it’s the city witnessing Notre-Dame’s transformation.
Lead photo credit : Notre-Dame. Photo credit © Stefaan, Pixabay.com