The team from the Catholic University recreates the framework of Notre-Dame Cathedral

The greatest goal of authenticity for Tonya Ohnstad, Visiting Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning and Acting Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies at Catholic University, is not How? ‘Or’ What the new framework of Notre-Dame cathedral is built.

It’s the way it is built – with architects and builders in concert, working together rather than separately.

“For me, it’s really about doing, and as one of the other speakers said, the architect and builder parted ways somewhere in the Middle Ages,” Ohnstad said. “And for me, it’s really about taking the chance that these two people get together and having the chance to understand each other a little better.”

Volunteers lift the farm by hand with ropes.

Permission granted by the Catholic University of America / Patrick G. Ryan

At the University of Washington, DC, Ohnstad and a group of carpenters, architectural students, and volunteers use 800-year-old methods to rebuild a key part of the cathedral, originally built in 1345. Its restoration has attracted international attention since a fire broke out in its attic in 2019 undergoing renovation. The fire damaged the iconic lead arrow and also destroyed “The Forest”, a group of trusses made from ancient wooden logs from a French forest nearly a millennium ago.

Investigators believe the fire was accidental and started as a result of an electrical circuit problem. Since the fire, millions of dollars have been invested in the reconstruction effort around the world.

French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to rebuild the cathedral like the 1844 drawing by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, a French architect who supervised the restoration work on the cathedral at that time. Macron’s goal is to complete the plan for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, a timeline that some experts have deemed unrealistic.

In addition, there was an important debate concerning the way the cathedral is reconstructed, some arguing for a more modern construction and others striving for historical precision and respect for the design of Viollet-le-Duc. In the end, a historical angle prevailed within reason, with respect for new safety standards.

So far, workers have cleared the debris and construction is expected to start in fall 2022, according to Architectural Digest.

It is with this vision that Ohnstad and company find themselves hand-carving Virginia logs with axes in the shade of the nearby basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and using traditional carpentry methods. to build a brand new farm, which will be 45 feet wide and 35 feet high. Some of the practices involve carving wood by hand with axes rather than power tools, and using these medieval carpentry techniques to keep the farmhouse together and in place, true to the time they were used. used.

It will eventually be installed in Notre-Dame Cathedral, offered as a gift to France.

A global icon

In May, the Catholic University announced its participation in the program, who is headed by Norwell, Massachusetts nonprofit Handshouse Studio, in collaboration with local partners and professional carpenters and traditional building experts from across the country. Organizations such as the National Park Service and Charpentiers sans frontières (Charpentiers sans frontières) helped build the farm.

Ohnstad taught a course on the traditional construction of Notre Dame, where students learned about ancient carpentry methods, timber harvesting, and construction techniques, as well as creating their own farm-scale models. much larger which will eventually be placed inside the cathedral.

Ohnstad said she sees the rebuilding process as a chance for all interested students to get involved, including people who may have been left out at the time of the original construction. She said the innovations may not have been about structure or form, but the inclusion of people, such as people of color, who were left out of the original build.

The farm was completed this week and received a blessing from Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, DC, on August 5 in the shadow of the Basilica.

“I think Notre Dame is a global icon, she doesn’t belong to one person or to one base or to one culture, she belongs to the whole world,” Ohnstad said.


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