In Brief

Today in Notre-Dame News: Extreme Cathedral Makeover Edition

The rapid pace of reconstruction news means we’re breaking down the most important stories into a reader’s digest.

Notre-Dame this morning after the firefighters extinguished the flames (photo by Joseph Nechvatal for Hyperallergic)

Despite an apocalyptic fire burning through its roof, the Notre-Dame cathedral is still standing. But now the church faces a different kind of conflagration — one that pits politicians, clergymen, historians, and preservationists against each other as officials decide on a path forward for the church.

Below, we’ve compiled developing stories from around the web to help make better sense of France’s unfolding efforts to rebuild. You can read our previous reports on the fire here and here.

France’s president says the cathedral rebuild will take five years.

  • Macron has vowed to rebuild Notre-Dame in five years, riding on a crest of public support that followed the fire catastrophe. “We have so much to rebuild,” Macron said in a televised address to the nation. “We will rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral even more beautifully. We can do it, and once again, we will mobilize (to do so).”
    • Architecture experts say the project will likely take more than triple that time if builders follow necessary precautions and conservation concerns; others say 40 years. By comparison, the Cologne Cathedral in Germany was heavily damaged during World War II and repairs are still ongoing more than 70 years later.
    • But Macron remains determined; Paris is set to host the 2024 Summer Olympics in five years.

French prime minister launches an international competition to rebuild Notre-Dame’s collapsed spire

  • Speaking at a special Cabinet meeting on reconstruction, French prime minister Edouard Philippe described plans to rebuild the 305-feet-tall spire “a huge challenge” and “historic responsibility.”
  • Specifics for the competition have not yet been announced, but Philippe said he wanted a “spire adapted to the techniques and challenges of our times.”
    • His comments drew criticism (and memes!) online from preservationists dreading what contemporary changes could be in store for the landmark.

Former French culture minister and billionaire art advisor believes donors should receive an immense tax deduction for their generosity

  • Jean-Jacques Aillagon has suggested that the mega-donations pouring into Notre-Dame’s purse should receive a 90 percent tax deduction. Incidentally, the former French culture minister is now director of the Pinault art collection and a close advisor to the family, which recently pledged €100 million (~$113 million) toward reconstruction.
    • During his tenure in government, Aillagon introduced a law in 2003 that allowed corporations to receive up to 60 percent in tax breaks for their sponsorship.
    • After his comments drew criticism, the Pinault family issued a statement clarifying that they would not take advantage of any tax breaks for their contribution.

Donations for cathedral reach $1 billion mark

  • Billionaires and brands have pledged nearly $1 billion only two days after the blaze. Several of France’s wealthiest families have vowed to contribute more than $500 million for the project.
    • Many companies with a French connection have taken up the cause. Disney, which produced the animated feature The Hunchback of Notre Dame, has donated $5 million.
    • In addition to monetary support, video game publisher Ubisoft has offered tech assistance to the reconstruction efforts. (The company built an intricate 3D model of the cathedral for the 2014 entry of their Assassin’s Creed franchise, which PC users can download for free in the next week.)
    • Separately, various Christian nonprofits have organized donation campaigns. Catholic Connect, a faith-based group from Texas, raised more than $11,000 on GoFundMe.

The Louvre is slated for the custodianship of Notre-Dame’s art collection

  • After being stored in the Hotel de Ville, Notre-Dame’s trove of cultural and religious objects are set to be transported to the Louvre Museum for safekeeping and restoration.
    • A spokesperson for the Louvre said it was too early to say which objects the museum will house. “The fire is a disaster for the world heritage of humanity, for our city, for all of us. The Musée du Louvre would like to express its solidarity with and compassion towards all teams involved,” she continued.

Historians say Notre-Dame’s roof worked exactly as planned

  • “It’s not that they’re designed to be burned down, but it’s designed so that if the roof burns off, it’s hard for [the fire] to spread to the rest of the building,” said Gothic architecture expert Lisa Reilly to Citylab. “In the Middle Ages, the thought was that stone vaults [could be] used to prevent the spread of fire.”
  • Others have lamented that “the forest” — a name given to the network of wooden support beams below the roof — was a tinderbox waiting to happen because of its extremely dry conditions.
    • Reilly’s input adds nuance to the discourse, arguing that “the best-case scenario would be that the fire [at Notre-Dame] is limited to the ceiling and the roof structure,” Rispoli says. “A lot of the architecture below survives intact.”

Extremists appropriate destruction as a dog whistle for Islamophobia

  • Despite officials classifying the fire as an accident, white nationalists have used images of the flaming cathedral to advance unsubstantiated claims of foul play. Some linked to reports of a foiled 2016 car bomb plot as if it were the cause of this week’s fire (it was not).
  • No need to slosh through this digital trash heap of conspiracy theories, but Buzzfeed News has a timeline detailing how the anti-Muslim narrative unfolded while Talia Lavin provides a good analysis of the Twitter chatter for the Washington Post.

Critics say Trump fudged efforts in France by ignoring American tragedies

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced yesterday that the White House would offer assistance to Notre-Dame. Trump later specified in a Tweet that the aid would likely come in the form of expertise and not money. The president also noted that he had telephoned Pope Francis and Macron separately to offer his condolences … and a very happy Easter.
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