French authorities have questioned President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitious plan to rebuild Notre-Dame in Paris within five years following the fire in April that destroyed the roof and severely damaged the structure of the medieval cathedral.
The latest to cast doubt on the target was Franck Riester, French culture minister, who said in an interview published at the weekend that there had been complications at the site during emergency repairs and that the hope now was to have the cathedral open to the public within five years while restoration continued.
“The most important thing is the quality of the restoration and of the project,” he told the newspaper Le Parisien. “It must be done in a reasonable time.”
Mr Riester added: “We’re not focused on a timetable. Our aim is five years, but there’s no countdown. The president never asks me when the work will begin. I’m not being put under pressure and there is no obsession.”
Despite experts predicting it could take decades to complete the work, Mr Macron made a televised address to the nation the day after the fire in which he declared: “We will rebuild the cathedral of Notre-Dame and make it even more beautiful than before and I want this to be completed within five years . . . We can do it, and we will mobilise to do it.”
Philippe Villeneuve, the architect in charge of the restoration, has been more cautious. He said: “In five years, we can rebuild the vaults and the roof, and reopen the church to both worshippers and public. But not much more.”
Urgent work is expected to continue into next year to stabilise the walls with wooden supports, remove the twisted and partially melted scaffolding that was in place for an earlier restoration programme at the time of the fire, and erect a temporary roof to protect the building. Only then will decisions be made about how to restore Notre-Dame for posterity.
Not everyone regards the five-target as impossible, however. André Finot, the cathedral’s communications director who once attended services as an altar-boy and was at the building on the night of the fire, said: “It can be done in five years. That’s my point of view.
“I’m here and I see how the works are going fantastically well. In the first three months workers were here seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”
Architects say Mr Macron and Edouard Philippe, his prime minister, were caught up in the passion of the moment immediately after the fire and may now temper their enthusiasm for a swift solution.
Mr Philippe announced that the government would hold an international architecture competition to replace the 19th-century spire that crashed through the roof at the height of the fire, raising the possibility that the Notre-Dame of the future might look different from that conceived by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, and provoking outrage among some French politicians, including extreme-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Since then, the mood has cooled. “The [government’s] initial impulse that this could be an opportunity for extraordinary creativity has I think expired by now,” said Jean-Louis Cohen, French architect and architecture historian. “After great excitement of the moment, my feeling is that this is going back to French bureaucratic procedure.”
The law promulgated in July on the reconstruction of the Notre-Dame “doesn’t leave much room for Norman Foster”, Mr Cohen said. But it does allow the possibility of using new materials and techniques. For Mr Cohen, this is the right outcome. “This is not a case for daring contemporary forms,” he said.