In the storm of proposals being released everyday for the redesign of the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral that caught fire on April 15, 2019, some have been too futuristic, some subtle while some completely unimaginable. Gensler, the international architecture and design firm’s design proposal came in as a fresh breeze of innovation – instead of mounting the cathedral with a new roof, they pitched to create a temporary pavilion within Parvis Square in front of Notre-Dame that can be used as a place of worship for tourists, visitors and locals alike - a practical and logical solution that does not overpower but subtly aides the process of refurbishment.
The primary purpose of the proposal was to offer a multi-purpose space for refuge and rest for Parisians and international visitors while the cathedral undergoes restoration.
The rather unassuming box-like design reflects on the past while being impactful and characteristic symbolising the future as well. Constructed primarily out of charred timber, it attempts to denote added vigour and resilience, apart from serving the needs of the community.
STIR asked Gensler about the process of design that was adapted and what was it that really went into proposing an annex to an architectural marvel that recently went through a disaster that shook the world.
Meghna Mehta (MM): What would you describe as your initial design approach?
Gensler Team (GT): Shortly after the top of the cathedral was ravaged, Notre-Dame’s Rector, Bishop Patrick Chauvet, offered the idea of creating an ephemeral cathedral on the Parvis-Square that would be made of timber and flooded with light.
We have listened to the Bishop’s wishes and came together as a business to design a modest, yet emblematic, temporary space for visitors. Within the firm, there were poignant feelings of loss, thankfulness that it was not lost entirely, and a recognition that there was going to be a period of time where the cathedral could not be occupied.
Gensler proposes a modest yet emblematic temporary structure constructed primarily out of charred timber – serving not just as a memorial, but signifying that hope can be born out of disaster. The material choice - tactile, warm and natural - provides the structure with added strength and durability.
Charring, one of the oldest and most effective methods of protecting wood from fire, symbolises that what was once destroyed and devastated Notre-Dame only serves to make it stronger; expressing a language of rebirth and transformation.
Functioning as a sheltered nave, it evokes the structural rhythms and forms of the original 850-year-old Gothic cathedral. With a roof constructed out of ETFE cushions and walls made up of translucent polycarbonate, the faceted form is flooded with natural light during the day and diffuses light in the evenings, acting as a beacon, which speaks of future and hope and emphasising the ethereal quality of the space whilst creating visual relief.
These materials create a space that is flooded with light and emblematic of Paris, acting as a beacon of hope for Parisians and the international community. It will not only be seen from the River Seine but from viewpoints across the city, including the Eiffel Tower.
MM: Could you briefly explain the planning or zoning of the space?
GT: Located in the cathedral’s vast forecourt, the pavilion would be 22-meter-high and be able to accommodate up to 800 people during mass.
MM: What are the significant features of this project that differentiate it from others?
GT: Replicated to the same dimensions as Notre-Dame to ensure familiarity, the temporary space has been designed to serve a multitude of functions, from religious services to exhibitions and markets to performances.
Behind the altar, movable panels will be installed that will allow for a full view of Notre-Dame. Gensler’s design also includes rotating panels at ground level that can be positioned to open or close the edge of the structure to mirror the configuration of the cathedral for mass services or be moved to seamlessly open up the space for performances or as a marketplace.
Duncan Swinhoe, Regional Managing Principal at Gensler, said, “It is important that the design is true to, but does not upstage, the cathedral. We wanted to strike a balance between a structure that invites the community, and yet can be transformed to become a reflective and spiritual haven when mass is celebrated. We hope this offers the people of Paris, and the world, a statement of hope and rebirth.”
Gensler pays homage to Notre-Dame by creating an atmosphere that provides a space to the community to cater to varied needs surrounding the arts, performance, social, and community culture of the people, the city and the world at large.
Project DetailsName of the project: Pavillon Notre-Dame
Location: Parvis Notre-Dame, Pl. Jean-Paul II, Paris 75004, France
Design collaborators / consultant: Philippe Pare, Design Director at Gensler and Duncan Swinhoe, Regional Managing Principal at Gensler
Construction time: Approximately 6 months