Notre-Dame de Paris: the challenges of an outstanding worksite

Notre-Dame de Paris: the challenges of an outstanding worksite

Works to secure the cathedral, which was badly damaged by fire on April 15, resumed on August 19. An outstanding project as it involves multiple players and novel technologies.

Aerial view of Notre-Dame

© Jgp

Decontamination airlock, mandatory shower: security works on France’s most famous cathedral resumed under close surveillance on August 19. The three-week interruption – justified by the risk of lead contamination for employees and residents – was not a three-week holiday: worksite management has absolutely nothing to envy to the largest heritage projects currently underway in Greater Paris!

Antoine-Marie Préaut, regional curator of historical monuments at the regional directorate for cultural action in Paris Region, has been working on it on a daily basis since April 15! “Because the role of regional conservation is to ensure the project management, organization, and conduct of work for all historic monuments under the Ministry of Culture. Yet, the State is, since the French Revolution, Notre-Dame’s site owner.

Since April 15, Notre-Dame has been fussing like a real anthill: “we have counted up to 40 companies on the site: companies that worked before the fire cohabited for a few weeks with those we designated to ensure the security and safeguarding of the building,” says the curator.

Parallel security and diagnostics

While Drac is the prime contractor, the project managers are Philippe Villeneuve, Pascal Prunet and Rémi Fromont, all three chief architects of national historic monuments. Indeed, all restoration work on a classified state-owned building must be entrusted to such an architect and such is the case of Philippe Villeneuve, chief architect at Notre-Dame since 2013 and who, since last spring and given the magnitude of the task, is therefore assisted by two colleagues.

As soon as possible, and without waiting for the end of the security and safeguarding phase, which should last until June 2020, they will undertake an evaluation and diagnostic study. It will make it possible to carry out a very precise inventory, estimates and schedule of the work. Ideally, this report should be completed by the end of the first half of 2020, so that restoration can begin as soon as the security phase is completed.

Notre-Dame towers

© Jgp

30 million euros of expenses already incurred

But the emergency has a cost: 30 million euros of expenses have already been incurred. This is a far cry from the annual budget allocated by the State to Notre-Dame: 2 million euros per year for conservation, 600,000 euros for maintenance. And even the budget of 5.5 million euros exceptionally released for the renovation of the spire. “In a few months, this represents half of the restoration budget we had planned for the next ten years!” says Antoine-Marie Préaut. Before April 15, the Ministry of Culture and the clergy had signed an agreement: the State undertook to support, up to two million euros per year, the Fondation Notre-Dame, which sought to raise an equivalent amount annually from sponsors, mainly Americans. The aim was to carry out a vast restoration programme worth around sixty million euros, which was still under study…. The State should however start to recover the funds collected during the national subscription.

New project manager to be appointed soon

General Jean-Louis Georgelin was appointed on April 17 by the President of the French Republic special representative in charge of the reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris and is expected to chair the future public body specifically created for the restoration site. An exceptional building requires an exceptional regime: on July 29, the law for the conservation and restoration of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral was passed, establishing a national subscription for this purpose. In particular, it provides for the creation of a public institution “for the purpose of designing, carrying out and coordinating restoration work”. 

The State, Paris Region, the Chairman…: all team up as everyone has an interest in ensuring that the process goes as smoothly as possible. Because Notre-Dame’s restoration operation is a showcase of the savoir-faire for France’s national Historical monuments! »


© Jgp

Enthusiastic researchers

The scientific community is also looking forward to learning more about the future public body. From the day after the fire, many researchers wanted to make their knowledge of Notre-Dame available to the teams in charge of the work. Thus the association of scientists contributing to the restoration of Notre-Dame brings together about 250 scientists from all disciplines and countries. They intend to support the teams in charge of conservation and restoration.

At the same time, the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research) has set up a “task force” made up of seven working groups (stone, wood, glass, metals, acoustics, digital model, anthropological research on heritage emotion) bringing together about 80 researchers for long-term study of the Cathedral building.

Who’s doing what at Notre-Dame?

  • The Catholic Church: the cathedral is dedicated to the practice of Catholic worship and the archdiocese of Paris therefore covers the running costs of the building, such as heating and employees’ wages working in the church.
  • The Centre des monuments nationaux (CMN) and the Maurice de Sully Association: while access to the cathedral is free, these two entities manage paid visits to specific parts of the building. The towers for the CMN, the treasure for the Maurice de Sully Association. Their activities have been interrupted since the fire.
  • Paris Region prefecture: department in charge of cultural affairs Drac is under the responsibility of the Préfet. In July, Prefect Michel Cadot decided to interrupt the work because of the risk of lead contamination, and then to resume it.
  • The Police Prefecture is responsible for investigating the origin of the fire that ravaged the building on April 15. The central laboratory of the police prefecture therefore analyses all the rubble coming out of the cathedral. It also performs civil security operations: protection zone, convoy escort, control of lead decontamination, etc.
  • The City of Paris: it has no official role in the management of Notre-Dame. However, the City assisted in the transportation of works of art during the night of the fire. It carries out the decontamination of nurseries, schools, and the premises of nursery assistants located near the cathedral. And it is in permanent dialogue with the prefefcture since the works occupy spaces owned by the City.
  • The Centre des monuments nationaux (CMN), Fondation de France, Fondation du patrimoine and Fondation Notre-Dame: donations and payments made since April 16, as part of the national subscription, to these institutions will be transferred to the State or to the public institution designated to ensure the conservation and restoration of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral.

Originally published in Le Journal du Grand Paris (read French version here).