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Notre Dame Cathedral reconstruction rendering by Studio NAB.

Experts Warn French President Emmanuel Macron Not to Rush Notre Dame Restoration

More than 1,150 artists, curators, academics, and leading conservators have signed an open letter rejecting French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral in five years. The French daily Le Figaro reports that experts are urging Macron not to rush reconstruction following the massive fire that devastated the beloved cultural heritage site on April 15. The cause of the blaze that scarred “Our Lady” of Paris remains unknown but may have been the result of an electrical short-circuit.

The letter criticizes Macron’s televised address in which he vowed that France would rebuild the Medieval landmark, making it “more beautiful than ever.” Shortly after, he announced that an international architecture competition would be held to select a new design for Notre Dame’s iconic spire, appointed retired army general Jean-Louis Georgelin as his special representative for the cathedral, and revealed that his Council of Ministers had drafted a law that, if approved, will give the public body tasked with overseeing reconstruction efforts the power to bypass heritage regulations in order to complete the project by 2024, when the Olympic Games are taking place in Paris.

The document also declares that it is too early to make decisions regarding the future of Notre Dame and that conservators need time to properly assess the damage. “You have said, Mr. President, that you want to restore Notre Dame. It’s our desire too, but in doing so, let’s not do away with the complex thought that must go into this for the appearance of efficiency. Let’s take time to evaluate. . . . We know that the political calendar requires quick action, we know how much a mutilated Notre Dame weighs on the image of France. Nevertheless, what will happen at Notre Dame in the years to come concerns us all, far beyond that calendar.”

Designs for the cathedral’s new roof have already been pouring in from artists, architects, and engineers worldwide and range from French firm Studio NAB’s idea to transform the upper levels of the church into a lush greenhouse to Amsterdam-based design firm Studio Drift’s rooftop made from plastic recycled from the ocean. The influx of proposals have sparked a fierce debate over whether the lost roof and spire should be faithfully restored as close to the original as possible or radically changed to reflect a new time. 

Signatories of the letter include Delphine Christophe, the head of conservation at France’s Centre des Monuments Nationaux; Alexandre Gady, a professor at the Sorbonne and the president of the nonprofit Sites & Monuments; Davide Gasparotto, the senior curator of the painting department at the Getty Museum; Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Nicolas Milovanovic and Cécile Scailliérez, chief curators at the Louvre; and the Italian art historian Salvatore Settis

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