Notre Dame Rebuilding Will Take Decade or More, Expert Says

April 16, 2019

By Carlo Versano

Parisians awoke Tuesday to a conflicting sense of relief and sadness. Relief that the damage done to Notre Dame was not as catastrophic as many feared when they went to bed Monday night. Sadness that the crown jewel of French beauty and iconic Gothic architecture now faced a long future of rebuilding after fire destroyed large portions of the 900-year-old structure.

Kobi Karp, a globally recognized architect who specializes in sustainable renovations, told Cheddar on Tuesday that he expects the work to take "no less" than a decade. And the $700 million euros raised for the rebuilding effort in the first 24 hours since the conflagration started is a "prelude" to the final cost, he said.

"This is just the beginning."

While Notre Dame's stone vault and facade likely saved it from complete destruction, Karp noted, fire can still severely damage stone, and water from firehoses can cause it to crack under extreme heat. But French officials said Tuesday they believe the structure itself is safe.

The same can't be said the roof, stained glass, steeple, or ceiling, all of which were either completely destroyed or severely damaged by the fire, which raged for hours and sent plumes of smoke billowing above the Paris skyline. Because it appeared to start near the transept ー the point of the nave at which it forms a cross ー the flames were able to spread across most of the roof, which is made of ancient oak planks under a metal covering.

Karp said the restorers will likely work to rebuild the damaged parts of the structure to mirror what they looked like before the blaze, but with better fire suppression technology, like a sprinkler system. A former chief of the FDNY told the New York Times Monday that cathedrals like Notre Dame, many of which are too tall to reach by ladder, were "built to burn."

"If they weren't houses of worship, they'd be condemned," Vincent Dunn said to the Times.

Still, Notre Dame survived more than eight centuries more or less intact. It made it through two world wars, occupations, revolutions, ignorant kings, and barbarian vandals.

Charli James, a reporter for France 24 who was among the first on the scene to witness the fire, told Cheddar that there's a sense of resiliency in the City of Light, which has a long history of having to rebuild after disasters. "This is part of the Notre Dame story now," she said.

There may even be a silver lining. The irony of the disaster is that it appears likely to have started due to the current restoration work being done ー work that has been much needed (and neglected) to address the extreme wear-and-tear on an active church visited by 13 million people a year.

"It's been a constant battle here in Paris to keep it from crumbling," James said.

Now, with hundreds of millions in contributions already pouring in ー from French billionaires to multinational corporations like Apple ー there is an opportunity to fortify the wondrous cathedral for the next 900 years.

For full interview click here.