By now, architectural proposals for replacing-temporarily or permanently-the parts of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral consumed by a massive fire in April are a dime a dozen. In the last few days alone, we’ve seen renderings from uncommissioned architects that include a rather impressive multistory screen that would wrap around the worksite, an indoor greenhouse, and a rooftop pool. Given that the French government is already well on its way on a plan to replicate the lost sections of Notre-Dame as faithfully as possible, all of these concepts, be they serious or satirical, will allow to little more than amusing. Frankly, crafting Notre-Dame proposals is more of meme than a serious undertaking.
But then there is the graceful, intelligent proposal from 2014 Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban. Here, the architect and his firm have answered one of the key issues confronting anyone trying to develop design solutions for Notre-Dame: while a tourist attraction, it is also a recovery and construction site, and a functioning house of worship.
Locating his structure in the cathedral’s massive forecourt, Ban proposes a simple and temporary structure of sustainably-sourced, common materials: rope, shipping containers wrapped in cardboard, and paper tubes. Functioning as a sheltered nave that is otherwise open to the elements, the space would offer a room for many to worship at once while offering a simulacra, or ghost of the vacant cathedral, through its interior pillar construction, ceiling, and aisle. Rope would support mimicking flying buttresses on the outside. Easy to set up and easier to disassemble, it’s mostly a recyclable solution to what is hopefully a temporary problem.
As noted, this is not Ban’s first time answering a crisis with a transitory paper structure. Perhaps the world’s most effective user of paper tube architecture, he also developed a chapel with a paper dome to serve worshipers living in the aftermath of the 1995 Kobe earthquake. Designed to last only five years, the structure stayed in place for 10, moving only when it was sent to Taiwan to help another group of parishioners similarly struck by an earthquake. This is just one of many projects in which Ban has reacted to crises with temporary or permanent solutions.
As well, the design is very much in keeping with the aesthetic that has run across most of Ban’s works, paper, steel, and otherwise. Deceptively complex given its simple and serene appearance, it lets in light through variantly sized apertures and uses warm, inviting, natural tones despite its clearly contemporary nature. The play of light inside the structure, should it ever be built, will be a show in and of itself.
As to whether this will indeed grace Notre-Dame’s forecourt, there is clear support within the cathedral’s administration for a temporary wood structure, provided the site can carry one’s weight. While neither Notre-Dame nor the French government have made direct comment on Ban’s design as of yet, it would seem to be the best way they could satisfy any brief that requires a lightweight, temporary, solemn solutions to their parishioners’ needs.
Originally published at https://www.surfacemag.com on July 10, 2019.