The army general overseeing the post-fire project had sharp words about the architect's vision for the replacement spire
The French army general in charge of the Notre-Dame cathedral rebuilding project has told the chief architect to ‘shut his mouth’ over plans for the spire design.
According to French media, the comment, made by General Jean-Louis Georgelin at a meeting of the National Assembly's cultural affairs committee on Wednesday, is the culmination of months of disagreement between the man in charge of the post-fire restoration project and the architect Philippe Villeneuve.
Villeneuve, who has worked on the restoration of the medieval cathedral since 2013, is a strong advocate for rebuilding the spire exactly as it was before the fire in April, which destroyed the 19th-century lead and oak spire and much of the cathedral's roof. The chief architect has called for an identical replacement, based on Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th century design, itself a replacement for an earlier 13th century spire, removed in the 18th century after its collapse. In June, Villeneuve cited the Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites, calling for an identical replacement, and continued his calls in October with reference to a survey that showed more than half of French people agreed with him.
However, the retired former general, appointed to oversee the restoration with the aim of a 2024 reopening, has expressed a preference for a contemporary interpretation, something that the French president Emmanuel Macron has said he is in favour of. The French prime minister Édouard Philippe opened an architectural competition in April, and the general said that a final decision would be made by 2021, the BBC reported.
The comments by Georgelin provoked shock at the National Assembly's cultural affairs committee and a critical response from the culture minister Franck Riester, who tweeted that the remark was ‘unacceptable.’ ‘Respect is a cardinal value of our society. As public officials, we must be exemplary,’ he continued.
Les propos du Général Georgelin à l'encontre de Philippe Villeneuve, architecte en chef des monuments historiques en charge de #NotreDame, ne sont pas acceptables. Le respect est une valeur cardinale de notre société. En tant que responsables publics, nous devons être exemplaires— Franck Riester (@franckriester) November 14, 2019
Discussion over the replacement of the spire will continue, with Villeneuve arguing that achieving the rebuild in time for a 2024 deadline would mean using an identical design. However, the competition, which sparked the debate about the spire, is ongoing.
The competition announcement sparked a range of creative proposals, from the frivolous, such as turning the roof into a swimming pool, to the more serious, with comments from Norman Foster that it could be 'a work of art about light', prompting suggestions for a glass roof.
A team from Gensler also proposed a temporary structure made using charred timber and translucent polycarbonate, designed to allow church services and events to start up again.