Thursday, May 14, 2020


There are many ways of being an architect.  I’ve always been a bit of a jack-of-all-trades: dabbling a bit in concept design, often tasked with construction packages, always concerned with visual presentation.  You sometimes see adverts for “BIM architect” or even “Revit architect”.  I prefer to see myself as an architect who just happens to be a BIM addict also.

What is Project Notre Dame?  I see it as an approach to research.  It’s not the “dry, academic” kind of research, although there is some overlap into that sphere.  Indeed, we are attempting to blur the boundaries between the “closed world” of academia and the sphere of enthusiastic amateurs.  The core of our work entails hands-on modelling, but behind the scenes there is much collecting of information, watching videos, sifting through images, interacting with other groups.  Indeed, there are group members who focus more on this type of activity.

Nader Boutros joined us a while ago, and has dug up lots of interesting material.  He found a web site with links to a great many historical images kept in the museums and libraries of Paris.  One image seems to match closely with a plaster model that he also found.  It seems to record the state of the cathedral just before Viollet LeDuc began his work.  Was it commissioned by LeDuc and Lassus at that time? Or is it a later reconstruction?  I am fascinated by the little “cabin” perched high up on the side of the South Bell Tower.  What on earth could this have been for?

The previous post described incremental work in the transept zone, and to the West Front/ Bell Towers.  Whenever you visit a gothic cathedral, keep an eye out for vertical slit windows.  They are easily overlooked, but they usually mark circulation routes within the thickness of the walls.  These may be spiral stairs, in which case there will probably be a projection of thickening to accommodate them.  Sometimes though they mark horizontal passages, probably connected to spiral stairs.  I think this is how the terraces above the gallery of kings are accessed.  There is also a passage below these terraces, directly behind the statues of the kings.  You can stand there, in the shadow of a giant effigy of an old testament king or prophet and look out over the parvis (the plaza in front of the cathedral)
You can see this in certain YouTube videos.  

I’m still searching for the best cutaway views to explain the complexity of circulation routes that serve the West End of Notre Dame.  Lots still to do of course.  The eight-part vaults are square at present, and both the same size, whereas they need to be rectangular and the northern one about a metre wider than the south side.  Let’s see if Alfredo finds the time to come back to this.

In the previous post, I described installing a single element at the base of the clustered ribs of the main pillars at the East side of the crossing.  I have now completed the same exercise for the similar columns that frame the high archway between organ and Nave.  Once again this involved revisiting the setting out and inevitably the adjacent, lower arches had to be adjusted also.  Lots of checking measurements using the Leica TruView site that hosts the point cloud created by Andrew Tallon.  

I should mention the belfry.  The lower belfry has an eight-part vault like the ground floor below it.  Was this the bell-ringers chamber?  If so, how do the ropes get down?  There is a single circular opening in one of the vault segments, but no signs of ropes in the images I have seen. The upper belfry actually houses the bells, suspended in a huge wooden framework which rests on a ledge in the stone walls.  Once again, these frameworks are out of date.  They need to be enlarged to fit the ledge that has been formed on all four sides in recent weeks.  The frame should lean in a little so that it is well clear of the walls and able to sway freely under the enormous loads imposed by the swinging of the bells.

All the time, when doing this work, modelling is interleaved with research and review.  Many members of the team have contributed to our collection of reference material stored in the cloud where we can all access it.  In my case it is synced to my laptop hard drive, so I can reorganize the folders and add new material in the usual way, knowing it will synchronize in the background.

Screen shots from drone footage after the fire reveal further differences in the bell towers. Both towers have rear facing windows lighting the lower belfry, but the smaller tower has a much larger window.  A fascinating set of drawings pick up the passage behind the gallery of kings.  The drone footage also shows the three doors that connect the “sky-terrace” between the towers with the roof void, or what used to be a roof void.  The side doors lead to the external walkways, running along the eaves, via a few wooden steps and a doorway. The central door would have led to a wooden “gang plank” which travelled all the way down the centre of the nave … the roof void above the nave actually, and slightly off-centre.

Talking about “off-centre” … the entire cathedral is full of slight shifts and irregularities.  We haven’t tried to reproduce all of these exactly.  We don’t have the information to do that, and I imagine it would take 3 or 4 times as long to achieve it. Our approach has been to start with a completely symmetrical and regular building, then gradually introduce the irregularities that we think are most significant and interesting.  Here and there it is necessary to introduce skewed lines to accommodate shifts in axes, but for the most part we have kept everything orthogonal.  Maybe that will change at some point, but there are much more urgent tasks to tackle.

A while ago I watched YouTube footage of Assassin’s Creed gameplay … a fascinating model, especially if you know the building well.  There are steps over the roofs at the ends of the transepts that bear no relation to reality, but it IS a computer game, and they have been quite open about making inventive changes that enhance gameplay.  Looking at the model and noticing discrepancies or other oddities has helped me to dig much deeper into the design.

I’ll finish this post with a different approach to the cutaway views of the towers. Maybe it needs animation.

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