How Notre Dame tragedy has brought out the Classical Vs Modern debate

The World watched with horror as the roof of the Notre dame cathedral in Paris came crashing down this summer. The pivotal moment in the tragedy was the spectacular collapse of the spire that burnt and toppled down. Add to this the growth of internet and social media that instantly made it a spectacle similar to 9/11 in New York.

The political pressure on the leadership of France was certainly heavy and President Emmanuel Macron announced that the Cathedral will be rebuilt in 5 years and he shall call for an international Architectural competition for redesigning the fallen spire.  Just as the debates in the technical teams were getting started on whether 5 years was a realistic time, renders from “modernist” architects started flooding with their own interpretations of the spire, leaving most of the french people aghast at the possibility of shiny glass shards and metallic spikes on top of their beloved cathedral. Calls for calling off the spire competition and restoring it to its exact self or even better not having the spire at all have already started pouring in.

And this once again ignites the debate of the new vs. the old. Especially in the context of the Rich architectural and design tradition that France and Paris, the indisputable capital of everything beautiful and artsy in Europe and the world to the forefront. Stone and wood were the preferred materials of the day and age and they had thier own charm. They weathered beautifully lending a persona of patinated time showing on them. On the other hand glass and steel are the modern materials of preference and they look spectacular and are economical, have a lesser carbon foot print as well as are faster to construct.

However aIMG_7022 cathedral built nearly 800 years ago, that saw Frances rise to world power, that witnessed coronations to Kings and queens, Emperors and has seen revolutionaries burnt at its stake, the spoils of the inquisition and the cryptic stories of holy Grails and Knights. The cathedral itself tells the story of its past, so Unique to France itself.  Any design intervention on the design cathedral is akin to writing a new history of France itself. It is no wonder that people in Paris were aghast to see glass shards and metal spikes as design proposals to the cathedral as they do not have any cultural reference to the history of the cathedral.

However it is not the first time that France has seen such Public outcries. The World exposition in Paris, that saw Monsieur Gustav Eiffel put up his tower which was considered to be a monstrosity to the skyline of  Paris. There was an outcry and people demanded that it be dismantled. Similarly President Francois Mitterrand was criticized for inviting I M Pei to create a cryptic Pyramid  as an extension to the Louvre Palace.

It now remains to be seen if the french public’s demands of not tampering with the design of Notre dame helps avoid an eyesore to the beautiful history of the Cathedral or if this is indeed an opportunity to create another Avante-garde architectural marvel

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