Bas Smets reimagines Notre-Dame landscape as a climate-resilient space

The Belgian architect's winning design comprising a ground cooling system, more trees and integrated parks, hopes to put the Gothic marvel back to being the heart of Paris.

by Zohra KhanPublished on : Jul 27, 2022

The 4500 sqm area around the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris will be transformed into a pedestrian friendly and climate responsive public space by Belgian practice Bureau Bas Smets. The redevelopment work comprising interventions in the Parvis, the square behind the cathedral, the underground parking beneath the square, the riverbanks and surrounding sidewalk is focused on creating a better visitor experience of the iconic Parisian landmark. Brussels-based landscape architect Bas Smets' design won an international competition in which the jury, consisting of the city and church officials along with those involved with Notre-Dame’s reconstruction, selected it from a shortlist of four.

The square in front of the cathedral will feature a clearing surrounded by a dense passage of trees | Notre-Dame | Bureau Bas Smets | STIRworld
The square in front of the cathedral will feature a clearing surrounded by a dense passage of trees Image: © Studio Alma for Bureau Bas Smets

'The very cradle of Paris', Notre-Dame seated on the Île de la Cité island along the river Seine has been for centuries defining the spirit of the city. While its main roof was consumed in a devastating fire three years ago, the government of Paris has since been working on its reconstruction. In their ongoing efforts to make Paris a greener city - key projects exemplifying this intent includes the Eiffel Tower Park and the upcoming revamp of Champs-Elysees - the cathedral's rework too has been aligned with a climate-conscious approach. Bureau Bas Smets' public space design - underpinned by the idea of how Paris should be, now and in the future - stands in wake of the changing climate. Their proposal, conceived in collaboration with local studios - urban planning firm GRAU and Neufville-Gayet Architects, a studio rooted in historic architecture - is expected to revive Notre-Dame's surroundings in a span of five years. However, portions of the space will be visible to the public when the cathedral partially opens in 2024, ahead of the 2022 Summer Olympics in Paris.

The proposal integrates the landscape (front and behind the cathedral), the riverbank, and the surrounding sidewalk | Notre-Dame | Bureau Bas Smets | STIRworld
The proposal integrates the landscape (front and behind the cathedral), the riverbank, and the surrounding sidewalkImage: © Studio Alma for Bureau Bas Smets

Speaking of the design, Bureau Bas Smets shares, "The project rethinks the emblematic public spaces around Notre-Dame as an assemblage of climatic atmospheres. [...] Compressed and imbricated around the Cathedral, these spaces frame new views on Notre-Dame, create a new relationship with the Seine and offer new activities. The Ile de la Cité becomes the epicentre of Paris once again."

The square in front of the cathedral, according to the proposal, will see a 'clearing' bordered by a passage of trees to the rescue of those who queue in scorching summers to see a glimpse of the glorious Gothic architectural marvel. The area would be repaved using stones from French quarries, the pavers would be cut the same size as the historic tiles within the building. Responding to the rising temperatures, a ground cooling system will be installed which will release a five mm sheet of water across the square, creating a fountain intended to bring down the area's micro climate to several degrees. The water feature, which will employ harvested rainwater, is not only conceived as a climate tool but also as an aesthetic element that would manifest as a silvery foreground to the visitors. The proposal also merges the parks behind the cathedral with lawns spread by the Seine creating a seamlessly integrated public space. The introduction of new trees on the site amounts to 30 per cent more than the existing ones, and to be planted behind the latter in a meticulous arrangement.

Fences will be removed to merge the parks surrounding the cathedral | Notre-Dame | Bureau Bas Smets | STIRworld
Fences will be removed to merge the parks surrounding the cathedral Image: © Studio Alma for Bureau Bas Smets

The proposal also includes an archaeological museum and a refined reception area to be designed within the existing underground car park under the main square. Opening onto the picturesque banks of Seine, the space will forge new public connections between the architecture, the river and the landscape. The €50 million project, rooting to put Notre-Dame back to the heart of the city, is being funded by the city council of Paris.

  • The route to the underground archaelogical museum | Notre-Dame | Bureau Bas Smets | STIRworld
    The route to the underground archaelogical museum Image: © Studio Alma for Bureau Bas Smets
  • Interiors of the museum | Notre-Dame | Bureau Bas Smets | STIRworld
    Interiors of the museum Image: © Jeudi Wang for Bureau Bas Smets

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