Restoration work on Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, which was nearly destroyed by fire in 2019, is still ongoing, but another project is about to begin as well. It is an overhaul of the area around the cathedral.
The redesign of the cathedral’s forecourt entails work to make Notre-Dame more accessible for the millions of people who come to see it each year while also planting more trees and naturally cooling the area. All told, the prospect will help mitigate rising temperatures driven by climate change.
Notre-Dame “had to be left in its beauty and have everything around it be a showcase for that beauty,” said Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, according to The Hill. She added that “a city like ours can no longer think outside of climate change.”
A Famous Cathedral
Notre-Dame Cathedral Paris (or Notre-Dame de Paris, “Our Lady of Paris”) — immortalized by Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame — is world famous. Located on a small island called the Ile de la Cite in the middle of the River Seine, it is one of the first Gothic cathedrals that features sculptures and stained-glass windows, Notre-Dame Cathedral Paris explains.
The cathedral, which took more than 300 years to complete, is also known for its historic neighbors: the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Place de la Concorde. In fact, the entire area, known as “Paris, Banks of the Seine,” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The fire was believed to have been caused by an electrical short and brought extensive damage to Notre-Dame on April 15, 2019. Among that damage included the collapse of its 315-foot lead and wood spire, a landmark of the Paris skyline, onto the cathedral’s stone roof. Immediately after the fire, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that reconstruction work on Notre-Dame would be completed within 5 years — coinciding with when Paris is to host the 2024 Olympics.
That plan seemed ambitious, especially when restoration efforts suffered numerous setbacks. For instance, a large amount of toxic lead from the cathedral’s roof was deposited on the surrounding area, which made necessary the lead decontamination efforts. Then, severe winter storms caused delays before France’s COVID-19 lockdown, which further delayed work.
Now, however, restoration work is underway and proceeding according to schedule.
The Redesign Project
The City of Paris organized an international architecture and landscaping competition for the redesign of Notre-Dame Cathedral’s forecourt. Officials from the city, the diocese of Paris, and the task force in charge of Notre-Dame’s reconstruction were chosen as the contest’s jury. The jury also consulted with local residents and businesses to gather their input.
The firm, which unanimously won the contest, is Bureau Bas Smets, based in Brussels. The team, led by landscape architect Bas Smets, includes GRAU, a French architecture and urbanism studio, and Neufville-Gayet, a French architecture agency.
The design includes extending and merging parks around Notre-Dame to create a “clearing” surrounded by trees to better see Notre-Dame as well as create new views of the River Seine, according to The Guardian. Planting more trees will also create more shade for visitors.
Other plans call for transforming an old, underground parking lot into an underground walkway that opens up onto the banks of the Seine, but also provides access to a welcome center and an archaeological museum, the City of Paris explains.
Finally, the plan also calls for building a ground cooling system “that will send a 5 millimeter sheet of water across the square in front of the cathedral during the summer,” The Guardian notes. “This will lower the temperature of the area by several degrees, produce a microclimate around the cathedral, and create a shimmering and reflective foreground for tourists’ photographs.”
You can learn more about the forecourt redesign at Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral here.