In response to Prime Minister Édouard Philippe’s call for design proposals for the reconstruction of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, the global architecture firm SB Architects unveils a new vision, with a concept that celebrates the unbuilt ideas of Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc – the architect behind the original spire – in an Art Nouveau language of the 21st century.
The reimagined spire, ‘La Rose’, reflects SB Architects’ understanding and commitment to designing for the destination, honoring the culture and history of a place. Through a deep understanding of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, the author of the cathedral’s original spire would also invent, on paper, an architectural language that re-interprets these 12th Century motifs. This gift for invention coupled with his adoption of iron structures allowed him to stretch Middle Age cathedral proportions into a whole new style; indeed, this innovation made Viollet-le-Duc the father of Art Nouveau, a design type unique to Paris.
The contemporary element behind this concept is, in part, the fusion of drawing to modern technology, by which it will come alive. Without sacrificing the first step of drawing, Cooper Copetas, a Parisian and designer at SB Architects’ Miami office, explores the power of parametric modelling to build from the work of le-Duc and his pupils. The lines are first explored in pencil, then watercolor, then transcribed digitally into code to create an in-depth view of the structure and details.
Well before choosing architecture as a career, Copetas was struck by the sculptural Art Nouveau gateway that greeted him at the start of his daily commute through the crystalline ceramic walls and ellipsoidal tunnels of the metro. This effect, that Charles Garnier would have announced to the Minister of Public Works, could be appreciated only if it rejected industrial character so as to be completely a work of art. Garnier’s philosophy, of ensuring Paris remain a museum rather made into a factory, guided Copetas’ approach since first sketching the new spire.
“I knew the same creative force of Viollet-le-Duc that majestically hailed my passage through the busy stations had to be incorporated into this proposal,” says Copetas. “It’s our aim to create something expressive but disciplined through parametric design methodology. The humbly integrated design may be geometrically complex, but without veering into an overly elaborate territory, resolutely unique without unnecessary ostentation.”
Accustomed to using parametric tools to support the sustainability of such delicately complex designs, SB Architects leverages algorithmic modeling systems to map the new design. Such programs allow lines originally sketched on paper to be quantified with absolute precision in multidimensional space. Making changes in real-time without replotting the vertexes that comprise curve profiles, the team can stretch and connect lines, adapting the more complex geometric systems relative to their positions; essentially recalculating the shape of the entire model to adapt to the motion of a single point. Like a needle to compass, each node is calculated relative to its cousins in the model.
In this sense, the designer and builder became one in the process of creating a new concept for the cathedral. By defining the algorithms that would comprise the parametric code, the designers harnessed the derivatives into what ultimately took shape as the vision for new roof and spire. Projected upwards by a gleaming steel structure, this cone of frosted glass bricks filters a scattered beam of light throughout the heights of the nave. By design, the twelve patinaed Apostles that were part of the cathedral prior to the renovation of the roof and the subsequent fire remain, though their location is altered to leave space for four decorative oculi. The four counterparts of the other twelve statues return to the valleys, acting as anchors for the metallic laces tied to the roof. A gothic rosette formed by inverted pointed arches opens to the sky, and the rooster reclaims its place at the top as if announcing the arrival of the most recent work of Notre-Dame de Paris – La Rose.
For its reconstruction design concept, Copetas carefully chose materials that gesture toward artforms epitomized in Parisian architecture historically, from glass to glazed blue-toned ceramic tiles. Leveraging brick as a reinterpretation of the stacking and carving of stonework that comprises the original cathedral, the art form is even more celebrated by adding a twist of crystal; imagining the light that would reflect off the structure, making it photogenic and more intriguing, crystalline material was a natural choice.
Ceramic façades and roofs were common to buildings constructed between the 1850s and 1920s in the region of Ile-de-France. Paying homage to the beauty, craft, and complexity of Parisian ceramics, and the stereotomic work that architects such as Lavirotte and Perret contributed to Paris, SB Architects’ team integrated glazed blue-toned ceramic tiles in the new design. The material and color echo the grey zinc and slate roofs common in Paris, which give off a greenish-blue hue when it rains. With carefully selected details the new roof and tile will be less invasive to the skyline and complement the grandeur of the spire with a design that is intentionally hyper-localized.
Guided by a philosophy that prioritizes site-specific design, the SB Architects’ vision for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame honors the regional architectural history, culture, and traditions of Paris, France, with faith in a culturally and contextually relevant roof and spire.