The Eye of the Fish

April 17, 2019

Notre Dame

I woke up this morning to hear the unbelievable news that Notre Dame de Paris was on fire – and by tonight it was all over. Impossible to think that it could happen at first, and yet when you stop to think about it, it is a wonder that it hasn’t happened before now. 850 years old with barely a scratch, and then when you start to do some renovations, you burn the whole place down. Heads should roll over this (at least the French are good at that!). This building was started almost before humans ever got to visit Nouvelle Zelande, and really is one of the finest gothic buildings around. If you like that sort of thing… and yes, I do! I’ve walked around it, from the inside and the outside, from end to end, and top to bottom, and in one of these boxes under my desk I probably have a hundred photos of it, including from the rooftop. Which now is no more…

I’m impressed by the way that Macron simply stated that it would of course be restored, unequivocally, and it reminded me of the words of Gerry Brownlee after the 2011 earthquake – that we would “have to get rid of the old dungas” but that 4 or 5 buildings would obviously get to stay – being the Arts Centre, the Cathedral, the Canterbury Museum etc. As it was, and as we know, nothing is so simple and so short-lived as the truthfulness of a politician’s words – here we are 8 years later and the ChristChurch cathedral has not even been touched yet, and the Catholic cathedral is still just containers and hay bales. So: don’t trust Macron.

Will the next 8 years in Paris be stale-mated by a stroppy Bishop wanting to demolish the whole building because it is out of date and not what the congregation needs? Will the workers be banned from entering because the Health and Safety issues are too large? Will they insist that everyone wears a Yellow HiVis Vest, because that means that you are safe, or will they just get water-bombed by Police if they do? Will there be looters inside already, scraping up the molten gold that will have cascaded down the aisles as the roof collapsed inwards? I seem to recall a fair amount of Catholic Gilt, as well as the usual amounts of catholic guilt.

But who could ever have foreseen this coming? I mean, 850 year old oak beams, with 200 year old varnish, in a building where hundreds of small candles are lit with live matches every day, next to old dry fabric wall hangings… and no one ever thought to put in a sprinkler system? Or to start a restoration project up amongst the timber works and not have a instant deluge curtain built in while they work? Did they have weekly fire drills? The firemen, apparently, took hours to arrive, instead of minutes – or even seconds. In NZ, working on a project like this, we would have to have a Fire Warden on duty, no? Or – did we try this already – didn’t we burn down part of Parliament in NZ while we were trying to work on it? Did we in fact do that twice? Once last century, and once the century before that? Didn’t the Scots manage to burn down the Glasgow School of Arts twice, the second time rather more successfully than the first?

What is the first rule of restoration work then? Surely it should be:

First, do no harm.

Second, install fire suppression systems to uphold rule One?

Third, proceed with caution!

17 - 04 - 19

One factor that France has that Gerry Brownlee didn’t have: rich benefactors.
100 million Euros from Pinault – Kering, and 200 million Euros promised from Louis Vuiton. Good. It might make up for those horrible bags they make.

17 - 04 - 19

Indeed – as a donation it is probably a tax write-off, so it won’t cost them anything. Also, their politicians over there come with timeframes: Macron is promising:
“The fire at Notre Dame reminds us that our history never stops and we will always have challenges to overcome,” Macron said. “We will rebuild Notre Dame, more beautiful than before – and I want it done in the next five years. We can do it. After the time of testing comes a time of reflection and then of action.”

Guardian also says:
“The fire, which had started at the base of the 93-metre spire at about 6.40pm on Monday, spread through the cathedral’s ribbed roof, made up of hundreds of oak beams, some dating back to the 13th century. These beams, known as la forêt (the forest) because of their density, formed the cross-shaped roof that ran the length of the nave and transept above stone vaults.”

17 - 04 - 19

A young construction boss boasted about his firm’s ability to protect historic sites when the company won a contract to repair the spire of Notre Dame.

Julien Le Bras, 32, declared last year: “Our first thought is to protect the values of historical buildings, it’s in our DNA.”

His firm, Le Bras Freres, a small company known as the ‘Cathedral Restorers’, had won the £5million (€5.8m) contract to renovate the spire of the Paris landmark.

Today craftsmen from the company were being questioned by investigators after the spire came crashing down in Monday’s blaze, which caused such extensive damage that experts believe it could take decades to repair.

Seamonkey Madness
17 - 04 - 19

Re: the melting of gold (albeit, yes it would’ve fallen and been deformed upon landing from such a height) :

5 years? The share price in mature oak forest companies just went up!

17 - 04 - 19

After a few years living on the continent, I was (and still) am astonished by the disregard for fire protection in France.

Given the amount of effort that goes into heritage conservation in the country, the ubiquity of multi-storey buildings with single entry/exit points, no fire suppression systems, no fire doors, no smoke lobbies, not even smoke alarms seems to be out of line with the level of detail applied to every other aspect of the built environment.

17 - 04 - 19

Although what I do find amazing is the most of the Scaffold that had been installed around the spire stayed up. yip the stuff closest to the spire appears to have slumped into the new void, but the bulk has stayed up (I’m guessing it will have to be dismantled by crane from the top down as its strength is now seriously compromised)

As an aside it looks like they had a couple od GEDA lifts on the projects,
this page has gone dark

but its google cache is still there

17 - 04 - 19

But, it has to be said, what terrific pictures!
So very… ‘gothic’…

17 - 04 - 19

Most of us won’t notice the difference in a few years time when humpty has been put back together again, but this is what has actually been lost (to the few who have seen it):×1024.jpg×683.jpg

And my favourite (because you can see the scale, that mighty beam heading into the lower right corner and the stone vault underneath):

And, while I’m pasting all these links for your viewing pleasure, here’s the part of Chartres roof structure that was replaced in the 19th century (after a similar fire):

We’ll no doubt see something akin to this – so I daresay an oak forest investment might not be that prosperous after all.
Heaven forbid la forêt in CLT. That would be pretty sad.

17 - 04 - 19

Actually a bit GOTic.

18 - 04 - 19

Well done greenly and m-d ! Great sleuthing ! So – GEDA are the lift company – who are the main contractors? I’m hoping for their sake that their PII is up to the job ahead…. sounds like a big claim is gonna be coming.

m-d – of course they won’t use CLT – that would be perverse! They’ll use LVL.

18 - 04 - 19

Mon dieu et sacre bleu – these French are moving fast. They have just announced there will be an architectural competition to design a new spire!

“France will launch an international architectural competition to redesign the roofline of Notre-Dame cathedral after a huge fire gutted the oak-beamed structure and sent its 300-foot spire crashing into the nave, the prime minister has said.

Edouard Philippe said the competition would give the 850-year-old monument “a spire suited to the techniques and challenges of our time”. No estimation of the cost of rebuilding the cathedral, for which French billionaires, multinationals and private citizens have so far raised €880m (£763m) project, had yet been made, he said.

President Emmanuel Macron promised the nation on Tuesday night that Notre-Dame, a powerful symbol of France’s history and culture and the point from which the country’s road distances are measured, would be rebuilt – and be “more beautiful than before” – within five years, a timetable many experts consider impossible.

As the Paris prosecutor’s office said investigators looking into the causes of the fire have still not been able to look inside the cathedral, Notre-Dame’s rector, Bishop Patrick Chauvet, said he expected the building to remain closed to the public for five to six years. “A segment has been very weakened,” Chauvet said.

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And from here:

“Notre Dame is one of the most celebrated high-gothic cathedrals, which are surely among the most astonishing architectural achievements of all time. They embody both the technical skill and the philosophical and theological profundity of the unjustly vilified middle ages: a time that saw the first dawn of a faith in an orderly universe, which led eventually to the emergence of science. But this aesthetic judgment is relatively modern. “Gothic” was a derogatory term when coined originally in the Renaissance: the Italian writer Giorgio Vasari used it to contrast the supposed barbarism of that earlier time (anachronistically linked to the Goths, who sacked Rome) with the splendours of his own age. The English diarist John Evelyn dismissed gothic churches as “heavy, dark, melancholy, monkish piles”.

“Even in their heyday there was nothing sacred about their original design. Bishops would look at their cathedrals and fret over how old fashioned they seemed, merrily commissioning new wings, towers, windows and annexes to bring them up to date. The result is often an awkward clash of styles and structures from different times.

“During the baroque period, many of these churches were blighted by kitsch makeovers. At Notre Dame, marble statuary glorifying the Bourbon kings was plonked in place of the medieval high altar. Even worse followed in the revolution: Notre Dame was ransacked as metal bells, grilles and reliquaries were melted down to make cannons and the cathedral was used as a warehouse. It was in a sorry state when Napoleon Bonaparte revitalised its image by being crowned emperor there in 1804.

“Gothic architecture became respected only in the 19th century, when the French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc spearheaded the gothic revival and Victor Hugo made Notre Dame emblematic as the haunt of his hunchback hero. Hugo’s 1831 book, called in French simply Notre-Dame de Paris, popularised the romantic idea that the gothic cathedrals were created not by the priesthood but by the people, inspiring Viollet-le-Duc to see them as symbols of French unity. He meant well, but by today’s standards he took liberties with his heavy-handed “restoration”, which included the fantastical Alice-in-Wonderland gargoyles of Notre Dame. What has come down to us in the gothic cathedrals is, then, often a jumbled patchwork of styles and underlying philosophies.”

18 - 04 - 19

Good commentary from the New York Times:

By Aurelien Breeden, Elian Peltier, Liz Alderman and Richard Pérez-Peña
April 16, 2019
Notre-Dame Attic Was Known as ‘the Forest.’ And It Burned Like One.

PARIS — Inside the cavernous cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, the last Mass of the day was underway on Monday of Holy Week when the first fire alarm went off. It was 6:20 p.m., 25 minutes before the heavy wooden doors were scheduled to close to visitors for the day.

Worshipers, sightseers and staff were ushered out, and someone went up to check the most vulnerable part of the medieval structure — the attic, a lattice of ancient wooden beams known as “the forest” — but no fire was found, Rémy Heitz, the Paris prosecutor, said on Tuesday.

At 6:43 p.m., another alarm rang. It was just 23 minutes later, but when they returned to the attic, it was clear they had a major problem: It was on fire. Soon much of the roof and the delicate spire rising high above it were also engulfed in flames, fanned by a strong breeze. Exactly how the fire broke out is now the subject of an intensive investigation by the French authorities, who are so far treating the disaster as an accident.

Much remains to be learned. But already it is emerging that Notre-Dame, irreplaceable as it is to France’s heritage, lacked the fundamental fire-prevention safeguards that are required in more modern structures and have been grafted onto other ancient cathedrals elsewhere in Europe.

Some of those elements, like firewalls or a sprinkler system, were absent by choice — so as not to alter the landmark’s design or to introduce electrical wiring deemed a greater risk amid the timbers that supported Notre-Dame’s ornate lead roof.

“There had been a systematic refusal to install anything electrical” within “the forest” because of the risk, said Pierre Housieaux, president of the Paris Historical Association. “Everyone knew that the attic was the most fragile part.”

Inevitably, some of those decisions are being called into question in the aftermath of a calamity that scarred a jewel of Gothic architecture precious to all the world, and left a gaping wound in the heart of Paris.

“The fire-detection system existed, not the fire compartments,” said Jacques Chanut, president of the French Building Federation, referring to the structures commonly used elsewhere to contain blazes. “That’s the typical example of something we are going to have to think about tomorrow.”

However it began, the fire galloped unimpeded across the attic and roof, and up the wood structure inside the spire. The flaming spire stood out over the city like a Roman candle until it toppled over, crashing through the ceiling and into the cathedral.

“At the cathedral, we have fire monitors,” Msgr. Patrick Chauvet, rector of the cathedral, told the radio station France Inter on Tuesday. “Three times a day they go up, under the wooden roof, to make an assessment.”

Notre-Dame had an on-site firefighter, posted daily at a command post on the floor of the structure, and a security agent, said André Finot, a spokesman for the cathedral. In case of an alarm, the firefighter would dispatch the security agent to the area where it rang.

Paris firefighters held two training exercises at Notre-Dame last year, focused on saving the relics and works of art, Mr. Plus said.

Lt.-Col. José Vaz de Matos, an official who works on inspecting France’s national monuments, said, “a good number of priceless collections were saved and brought to safety.” But large items, “some of which have been affected by the fire,” remained inside, he said.

Before the blaze, restoration work had begun and much of the building was sheathed in scaffolding, which was still being erected. Julien Le Bras, the chief executive of Le Bras Frères, the company that handles the cathedral’s scaffolding, told reporters that 12 employees worked on the site, but that none were there when the fire started.

Experts say that restoration, which often involves combustible chemicals and electrical tools, always presents a fire danger, as does electrical wiring.

18 - 04 - 19

d’oh… wrong acronym :blush:

18 - 04 - 19

M-d What do you reckon – was starkive referring to GoTic as in Game of Thrones ish ? The blonde queen burning down the whole city just to spare her own life ? I saw no green lightning, but I think that’s the one he meant…..

19 - 04 - 19

I guessed as much, although, I’m not sure I can bring myself to be bothered enough to watch the current season, so might never find out…

19 - 04 - 19

It was really a reference to the way in which cgi (another acronym, sorry) is skewing our perception of even the most dramatic real-word events. How many mediaeval cities can you see destroyed in a digital firestorm, before pictures like these start to diminish?

22 - 04 - 19

Another set of images – instructively showing how the stone vaulting has worked (as designed) to prevent the roof fire falling into the building proper – in all except a couple of places – notably the crossing, where the extra weight of the collapsed ‘flèche’ will probably have been what broke the back of the vaulting. This is great fire safety design…

Here it is with all the fire contained ‘above’:

And the aftermath… trays of ash with a couple of the collapsed vaults visible from the drone fly-by:

22 - 04 - 19

Great images – thanks m-d – yes, I’m a little less than excited to hear that the French didn’t want to put in fire-proof dividing walls as they didn’t want to spoil the look, and didn’t want to put in sprinklers as that might involve water… fools. Still: nice shiny new timbers now. Or steel. Chartres looks ok in modern steel up in the vault.

Or, of course, LVL. It’ll go with the spire I’m designing….