... there is no need to commemorate a senseless accident

The controversy over restoring Notre-Dame reflects a fallacy of the modern age: the idea that an old building becomes inauthentic if it is seamlessly restored is a credo that has been repeated so often it’s easy to forget that this was not the way that buildings were repaired in the past.

The best way to rebuild Notre-Dame de Paris would be to restore what was there, as if the fire never happened; there is no need to commemorate a senseless accident. The structural damage will have to be repaired first. Gothic cathedrals were built with belt-and-suspenders: the nave was spanned by a ribbed stone vault, but the actual weight of the roof with its heavy lead covering, was carried on an independent wooden structure of rafters, braces, and tie-beams. The Notre-Dame fire, which started in the attic of the north transept, totally destroyed this structure. A recent report in the New York Times suggested that had the fire not been prevented from spreading to the wooden structure that supports the eight giant bells of the north tower, the damage might have been much, much worse. But it was bad enough. The roof is gone, the spire is gone, and three large portions of the thin stone vault collapsed under the weight of the falling 750-ton spire. Establishing the integrity of the surviving vault is the most pressing question. The 21 flying buttresses of the choir have been temporarily reinforced and work is currently underway to ascertain what damage the heat of the fire—and the massive quantities of water—may have caused to the stone. Replacing and repairing the vault will be a challenging task.

Whether it is necessary to replicate the heavy oak framing of the roof itself is debatable. Wouldn’t a fireproofed steel structure—lighter and more fire-resistant—be a better option? The lead roofing of the nave and the spire could be replaced by something environmentally safer (the melted lead roofing has caused serious levels of toxic contamination in the area surrounding the cathedral). The design of a new flèche will undoubtedly be the subject of much debate. Viollet-le-Duc built a distinctive and beautiful two-story wooden spire that was taller and more ornate than the medieval original.