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Notre-Dame Cathedral (Paris) Fire


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Mar 26, 2016
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I am sick. I am sad. I am neither a Catholic, nor French. But no piece of the world's classic architecture should meet this end. I didn't live through the First or Second World Wars, but now I know how residents of villages and cities in Europe felt as their patrimony, treasures and history were demolished. Or the residents of any place at any time where history is brazenly, stupidly, or unnecessarily erased. Forever.

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If you read up the history of the cathedral, you’d find that it’s been wrecked and repaired quite a few times. The spire for example dates back to the 1800s. This, while tragic, is no different. The masonry seems to be ok, and you’ve got to wonder if they could have been more careful with a wood roof like that (I can think of so many examples of historical buildings going up in smoke during restorations). I do hope the medieval rose window survives...

In any case, this is far, far from being the end...look at the brighter side - this is one of the most documented buildings in the world, and it should be helpful to the restoration process.

Update - it seems the vaults are partially damaged, and there are reports that the rose windows didn't survive.

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So here are my 2011 Blackberry shots...

Will anyone ever be able to take this picture again?

france  paris 009.jpg
france  paris 014.jpg

france  paris 018.jpg

Will details like this be remembered...or replaced?
france  paris 023.jpg

In retrospect, this little model looks brilliant...
france  paris 041.jpg

This day started with espresso, fresh baguette and cheese. We walked from the Marais. I remember taking this picture.
france  paris 053.jpg
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Comments on the loss say whatever I could add on that point, but what I find beyond encouraging, actually inspiring in terms of hope and principle, are the massive offers of financial help to rebuild. Total Energy is the latest, with a US$100M donation. Yesterday, it was

My chapeau is off to 'France the Institution, France the Society' for being so dedicated to what constitutes the sense of nationhood. Is this selective? Absolutely, but selective in the right way. It could also feed and house a lot of folks who are in desperate need, but symbols are also necessary for a developed society.

Rather than lament the loss, I salute France for fortitude.
If there was any consolation to be taken from Notre Dame, he said, it was that it did not appear to have had any timber beams replaced with steel ones during 19th century refurbishments, something which happened a lot at the time. “I guarantee that if it had steel beams in, which has happened in some churches as part of Victorian refurbishment, it could have pushed out the walls.”

An incredibly apt point, since there's talk in the press of how France doesn't presently have timber with the dimensions needed to replace what burned. My immediate thought (and it would make some shudder) is for parallam to be used, but the fire resistance for parallam approaches that of steel...

The sill plates could be 'fused' to allow the beams to fall from the sills rather than push them out, but immense damage would still occur below if they fell like spears.

I suspect we're about to see some largesse from nations to supply the timber needed for this task. This might be more difficult than it first seems, as the original trusses were probably hardwood. This is going to be an engineering story in itself.

Addendum: Just digging on this, only to find that the Wikipedia entry on it is being modified even as it's being written.

Google cache also been erased, as on-line search results state: "...its roof to fire in World War I; the roof was later rebuilt with concrete trusses". All trace of that reference now gone. Otherwise a very informative read:

How the Notre-Dame Cathedral Fire Spread - The New York Times
Can Notre-Dame Cathedral Be Restored After Fire? - CityLab

From the latter link:
Restoring what had become a gutted skeleton might have seemed impossible, but the building was pieced back together between 1919 and 1938. What ultimately emerged was a singularly sensitive recreation of the building as it had appeared before the fire, though its wooden roof supports have been replaced with (elegant) concrete.

Must run, Big Black Lab making incessant demands of venturing out.
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The fire started somewhere in the attic area, near the spire, it would seem.

Picture below from the NYT:


I don't know about anyone else.............but what stands out to sign of a fire or smoke detection system, and no sign of a fire suppression system.

In an area of the building that is not in any way public, where such a system could be mounted non-obtrusively, to protect a zone of material that is highly flammable, in an 800 year old structure of great value..........

It would rather have seemed a good me.
Oak - and there is some chatter on Twitter that there are some available at Versailles.

It seems a number of stories are difficult to trace, as the originals are being pulled off the web. As is the case for this on Twitter: (as now showing at Reddit)
And as I scroll down Reddit, the story emerges:
Posted by

5 hours ago

“Oak trees planted at Versailles in the 19th Century specifically in case Notre Dame ever needed to be restored again.” A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.


level 1
38 points
4 hours ago
Do you have a source for such a claim (that they were planted for that purpose)? Honestly interested.

level 2
14 points
4 hours ago
I'm not OP but the source probably is this tweet:

4 hours ago
First off, thank you for the link.

Second, that twitter thread really puts it into perspective. Looks like it's not true. Trees aren't oaks and even if they were, unlikely they were planted for the specific purpose of Notre Dame, but still a cool idea although it will take years for the large structural beams to be ready (it takes about 1 year per inch (or 1 year per 2.5cm) to dry completely for use.

At some point, a stand of Oak will be found...but it's time to question the morality of felling 1800 Oaks to do this. At one time, Oaks used to proliferate the plains of at least Europe. The New Forest in the UK was denuded of Oaks to build ships, mostly warships.
The common rights were confirmed by statute in 1698. The New Forest became a source of timber for the Royal Navy, and plantations were created in the 18th century for this purpose. In the Great Storm of 1703, about 4000 oak trees were lost.

Perhaps some massive stand of Oak will be found to replace the lost timbers of Notre Dame, but as @Northern Light 's post illustrates, this cannot and should not be restored to what it was. That's just inviting the same cataclysm to recur. Thought should be given to *respecting* the original form, but repeating it in a much less vulnerable way. And that might very well be other joist wood species, and/or modern laminated ones that far exceed the safety of what they replace.

I'm sure this will come up as a topic of heated debate...pun not intended.