Last Wednesday, Vice President of the Guild of French Architects Eric Wirth spoke at a French Parliamentary meeting and argued that the Notre-Dame Cathedral should be rebuilt with wood, not other materials.
Wirth’s intervention comes after France’s president Emmanuel Macron called for the iconic 13th century spire to be given a “contemporary” touch, and after army general Jean-Louis Georgelin put in charge of the restoration said reports the spire would be rebuilt in oak were merely “lobbying” from the wood industry: “There will be a study, and all possible options will be examined.”
Wirth responded directly to Georgelin, telling French members of parliament that “talking about lobbying on a subject like this does not honor the edifice.” Wirth also argued that cost is not an issue: “the money is there.”
Wirth said alternative materials, like steel or concrete, are actually less structurally sound to build with than wood in the event of a fire.
“The cathedral has been there for 800 years. Had it been built in concrete or steel it would not still be there. Even with all the chemical protection treatments, given the intensity of the blaze the steel would have held for half an hour and then it would have twisted, pulling on the walls and everything would have collapsed.”
Wirth also said “we have to be skeptical of seemingly brilliant solutions” that have been proposed by others such as lightweight steel or concrete rafters to rebuild the roof and spire.
“Gothic cathedrals stand up structurally because there is a large mass on the vaulted ceiling… they only work because the roof is heavy.”
Luckily however, Wirth said “we are lucky to have all the information we need to rebuild an identical roof already there digitally,” rather than submit to the many proposals for a contemporary redesign. However, it may take more than the five year target as set by Macron, rather it should serve as “objective but not an imperative.”