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Today in Notre-Dame News: Angry Bees and Zombie Gargoyles Edition

Nothing gets creative cogs churning quite like an 850-year-old cathedral on fire.

Gargoyle (image courtesy Concr3De)

Nothing gets creative cogs churning quite like an 850-year-old cathedral on fire. But the burning of Notre-Dame has also created a power vacuum of leadership for reconstruction with architects, historians, politicians, and clergymen fighting for control of the process.

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 — and also here.

Experts urge Macron to abandon five-year reconstruction plan

  • More than a thousand architecture and heritage experts have asked French president Emmanuel Macron to reconsider his plans to rebuild Notre-Dame before the Olympic Games in 2024. One of the country’s largest newspapers, Le Figaro, published an open letter asking that reconstruction continue “without haste.”
    • “Let’s take the time to find the right path and then, yes, set an ambitious deadline for an exemplary restoration,” the letter reads. “Let us not erase the complexity of the thought that must surround this site behind a display of efficiency.”
    • Some very important art worlders have signed onto the letter, including the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Philippe de Montebello, the president of the association of heritage architects Rémi Desalbres, and the Louvre’s general administrator Wanda Diebolt.

The bees of Notre-Dame have been spared a fiery fate

  • The cathedral is a sacred house of God — and also bees! Around 180,000 of them live on the church’s rooftop. The pollinators came to live just above the sacristy in 2013 as part of a citywide initiative to preserve biodiversity. The three hives were donated by a beekeeper named Nicolas Géant.
    • Because the bees were located nearly 100 feet below the main roof where the fire rampaged, the blaze failed to damage the hives. “They weren’t in the middle of the fire, had they been they wouldn’t have survived,” Géant told CNN. “The hives are made of wood so they would have gone up in flames.”
    • High temperatures could have also melted the wax, gluing the bees together; instead, the bees avoided that tragedy had a nice smoke-induced nap.

But after the fire comes the rain

  • Some have speculated that the reason why Notre-Dame’s roof caught on fire so quickly was because its system of timbers underneath — known as “the forest” — was too dry. Only a week after the destruction, conservators and construction workers worried that rain could further destabilize the remaining stone and wood structures of the church.
    • Earlier this week, workers completed their task of covering part of the structure damaged by the fire with a large makeshift roof, which will hopefully mitigate possible weather damage.

The competition to design the church’s new spire gets ugly

  • Mere days after French prime minister Edouard Philippe launched an international competition to rebuild Notre-Dame’s collapsed spire, submissions began pouring in from the world’s leading architects. But the uniformity of their submissions is stifling. The majority of offerings fall into three categories thus far: glass, glass, and more glass. Most everyone wants the spire to become a symbol of both preservation and remembrance, but that doesn’t mean Parisians want a see-through casket shooting into the sky. Here are a few examples:
    • One of the earliest entrants was the acclaimed architect Norman Foster who, predictably, offered a roof and spire concept of crystal glass and stainless steel.
    • France’s Studio NAB would like to transform Notre-Dame’s rooftop into an educational greenhouse while the spire would function as an apiary, because why not? Designers hope the space could serve underprivileged and professional communities alike, even providing workshops for children.
    • Vizum Atelier of Slovakia has proposed a lightweight spire crowned with a beam of light that reaches high into the heavens as a reference to the soaring architectures of Gothic times
  • The iconic spire is not original and hails from the 19th century. Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, the designer selected for the commission, was only 30 years old when he worked to replace an older spire after years of neglect. Some architectural historians say that his contribution is now part of history, and deserves to be rebuilt as faithfully as is possible.

One design studio wants to use the ashes of Notre-Dame to rebuild it using 3D-printing technology

  • “What’s dead may never die, but rises again harder and stronger.” Excuse me for quoting Game of Thrones twice in one week, but this is exactly what the Dutch company Concr3De wants to do with the cathedral rubble. The firm has proposed to reprint the church’s gargoyles and chimeras with materials made from the fire rubble. The company wants to combine limestone from the fallen gargoyles with the church’s ashes and other materials to create a powder base for the printing substrate. Using complex digital models of Notre-Dame, the reprinted gargoyles would bear an almost-identical resemblance to the originals and contain almost the same materials.
    • “We saw the spire collapse and thought we could propose a way to combine the old materials with new technology to help speed up the reconstruction and make a cathedral that is not simply a copy of the original but rather a cathedral that would show its layered history proudly,” Concr3De cofounder Eric Geboers told Dezeen.

Money and designers are one thing, but are there enough workers in France to rebuild the cathedral?

  • Macron may be in a hurry to reconstruct Notre-Dame before the 2024 Olympics, but that doesn’t mean the workforce exists for such a task to be completed in time. Jean-Claude Bellanger is the head of Les Compagnons du Devoir, a guild association for manual trades which trains 10,000 students per year. He told Reuters that there is a shortage of hundreds of stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and roofers. The guild leader warned the government after the Notre-Dame fire that the building industry lacked the manpower, but he has not received a response from public officials.
    • Cathedral repair specialists also expect that reconstruction will be halted by safety precautions. One expert who worked on restoring New York’s Cathedral of Saint John the Divine after a 2001 fire told the news outlet that workers may have to tap each stone in Notre-Dame to listen for subtle sounds of damage before proceeding on any construction plans.

Will the Notre-Dame tragedy kickstart preservation efforts elsewhere?

  • The French state currently spends around $360 million on cultural heritage, just 3 percent of the Culture Ministry’s annual budget. Around 4 percent of historical monuments are owned by the state, like Notre-Dame, while the rest must rely on private donations.
    • The Christian Science Monitor reports that there are thousands of crumbling churches, cathedrals, and other historical buildings in France in need of repair, but few of those could ever dream of raising more than $1 billion in funds like Paris’s Notre-Dame has.
    • As state funds run dry, the French are increasingly looking for private donations to support fragile local heritage sites. “People are becoming more aware after the Notre-Dame fire of a desire to preserve our cultural heritage,” said Cécile Gambier, deputy mayor in charge of culture and heritage in Choisy-au-Bac in France’s Oise region. “It’s going to make them think, this monument won’t be here forever. We shouldn’t wait until it’s falling apart to try to save it.”

And finally, there’s already a Notre-Dame fire documentary in the works

  • Media distributor Fremantle has acquired international rights to a one-off documentary about the cathedral fire from STP productions, reports DeadlineNotre-Dame: In Flames will feature exclusive footage of the tragic event. The film includes video footage shot by firefighters, the police department, tourists, and witnesses who watched the fire envelop the church. There will also be exclusive interviews with the organist and priest of Notre-Dame, who were inside the cathedral when the fire began.
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