A fire swiftly burned through the 800-year-old lumber supporting Notre Dame’s roof, causing significant damage. Now, France looks to experts to restore the medieval church.
A fire at Notre Dame Cathedral Monday destroyed the famed medieval church’s roof, along with other historical and religious artifacts, leading to an outpouring of support and calls to repair the damage. Rebuilding will require the knowledge and skills of experts from various associations and guilds worldwide.
“Certainly, every time I’ve been on a conference call, people are just struck by the loss, which is immense,” said Paul Kuenstner, executive director of the Association for Preservation Technology International. “There is growing optimism that it can and will be restored. It is going to take a lot of time and a lot of money.”
The money has already started pouring in, with nearly $1 billion in donations just two days after the fire. Rebuilding is not an easy task, though it is a familiar one for European churches, said Lisa Reilly, a member of the Society of Architectural Historians.
“They have had this enormous [outpouring] of cash, which is what happened after the first World War with Reims,” Reilly said, referring to a church that builders spent two decades restoring after it was heavily damaged during that war. “This is not as badly damaged as Reims, as far as we know right now.”
And that brings up the most pressing issue: assessing how much damage has been done to Notre Dame. That will take experts from a variety of industries.
“First of all, you have to stabilize the building,” said Reilly, who is the undergraduate program director for architectural history at the University of Virginia. “You don’t want people going in crushed by falling debris. Then, you’ll need building archaeologists to help sift through the damaged stone and see what those pieces could tell us. Structural engineers will be critical to tell us what parts of the buildings are stable.”
Once the building is stabilized and assessed, the real work of restoration can begin. “When you go to a cathedral that is being restored, there are trained craftsman in metal work and stone work,” Reilly said. “And the question is, how many of them are there available to come to this site? This is an opportunity for France to train a new generation.”
Like the U.S., France is also facing a shortage in skilled workers. Jean-Claude Bellanger, secretary general of France’s Compagnons du Devoir, told Agence France-Presse that his group, which trains young people in different trades, doesn’t have enough workers to meet the needs of a restoration project like this.
“As soon as September we’ll have to recruit 100 masons, 150 woodworkers, and 200 roofers,” Bellanger said. “The problem is that these manual crafts are undervalued and don’t attract many people. We have the firms and the expertise, but there’s a serious lack of young people for this work.”
In addition, the Notre Dame fire is likely to send custodians of other historic buildings to experts for advice on how to prevent a similar catastrophe at their own site.
“For all of these buildings, the cost of maintenance is really high,” said Reilly. “Now that [Notre Dame] is burned, millions are pouring in. But how do we fund these [other historical] buildings so this doesn’t happen in the first place?”