Redevelop around Notre Dame to keep tourists moving and lower temperatures

PARIS — An overhaul of the area around Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral will open it up to the Seine and help millions of visitors get around more easily while mitigating the effects of climate change, city officials said Monday.

Notre-Dame, which was ravaged by a devastating fire in 2019, is closed to visitors and is still under reconstruction, with plans to partially reopen in 2024, just in time for the Paris Olympics.

The discreet redesign of the surroundings of Notre-Dame, which leaves the long rectangular stone square in front of the cathedral largely intact, will not radically change the district. But Paris officials said the planned changes would improve the visitor experience and make the city more resilient to rising temperatures.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said at a press conference on Monday that Notre Dame “must be left in its beauty and everything around it should be a showcase for that beauty.”

But, she added, “a city like ours can no longer think outside of climate change.”

The redesign plans to remove fences to expand and merge parks around Notre Dame, make nearby streets more pedestrian-friendly, and plant over 30% more vegetation in the area, including trees to provide light. extra shade. Plans also include transforming a car park that currently sits under the main cathedral square into an underground walkway that opens onto the banks of the Seine and provides access to a visitor center and an archaeological museum, said officials.

The new design includes a cooling system that will send a five millimeter (about a fifth of an inch) thin layer of water flowing over the square in front of the cathedral during heat waves, enough to lower temperatures by several degrees without flooding. the area – and to give tourists a sparkling backdrop for their photos, officials added.

The City of Paris will pay for the project, with a budget of 50 million euros, or 53 million dollars.

The area would be reopened in 2024, when most of the reconstruction of the cathedral is due to be completed, so worshipers can once again use the space. But the redevelopment of the area around the cathedral will only really begin when the site is cleared of scaffolding and construction bungalows, and it should not be finished before 2027.

The city had held an international architectural and landscape competition for the redesign, with officials from the city, the diocese of Paris and the task force in charge of rebuilding Notre-Dame serving as juries. The city also held a six-month consultation with local residents and businesses, and a commission of 20 randomly selected citizens provided input.

The winning team is led by Bas Smets, a Belgian landscape architect, and includes GRAU, a French architecture and urban planning firm, and Neufville-Gayet, a French architecture firm.

Mr Smets said the square in front of the cathedral was intended to be a “clearing” surrounded by trees, showcasing the famous west facade of Notre-Dame, creating new views of the Seine and providing respite from the rising temperatures.

“By working on wind, shade and humidity, we can create a microclimate around the cathedral that increases the resilience of the city and prepares it for an uncertain climatic future,” he said.

Ms Hidalgo, who was first elected in 2014, has pledged to transform Paris into a greener city by drastically reducing the number of cars circulating in the heart of the French capital and increasing the number of cycle lanes.

Square Jean XXIII, a park behind the cathedral currently fenced, will be opened, with new lawns stretching to the edge of the Île de la Cité, the island on the Seine where the cathedral is located. The park will also be merged with the gardens that run along the south edge of the cathedral, creating a 1,300-foot-long green space where visitors can admire the cathedral’s flying buttresses and stained glass windows.

About 13 million tourists visited Notre Dame each year before the fire, snaking in long, disorderly lines in front and crowding the narrow streets around it.

The Reverend Gilles Drouin, adviser to the Archbishop of Paris, said at the press conference on Monday that the objective was to “decompartmentalize spaces which constrain him somewhat”.

“I am very happy that the tragedy of the fire has enabled us to recreate physical and symbolic links between the capital and its urban environment”, declared Abbé Drouin.

The 2019 fire destroyed the trellis of huge old beams that made up the attic of Notre-Dame, where the fire started, melted the lead sheath of the roof and endangered the general stability of the iconic stone structure that stood for eight centuries. Molten metal, flaming beams and the spire fell inside the cathedral, causing further damage.

A definitive cause of the fire may never be determined; the main theories are an electrical short circuit or a cigarette thrown by a worker in the attic.

The building was stabilized last year and restoration and reconstruction work is underway, in line with President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitious wish to reopen the cathedral by 2024. The cathedral’s organ is being cleaned and 1,000 oak trees were felled across the country to rebuild. the spire and the attic.

Mr Macron had abandoned plans to replace the cathedral’s 19th-century spire with a contemporary one, but plans to modernize the building’s interior were given the green light in December.

The fire also contaminated the cathedral site with clouds of toxic dust and exposed nearby schools, nurseries, public parks and other parts of Paris to alarming levels of lead, forcing French authorities to implement decontamination measures on site and to cordon off and clean the area several times.

Advocacy groups have filed lawsuits alleging authorities have failed to address the risks of lead contamination, but those concerns have mostly faded from public view in recent months, and the roof of the cathedral should be rebuilt with lead.


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