Notre Dame, bill is being studied to skip preservation rules to speed up reconstruction. Cultural professionals protest

A bill is under consideration in France that would allow the reconstruction of Notre-Dame to take place under an exception to heritage rules. Protest from professionals.

As had become clear from just a few hours after the Notre-Dame fire, the president of the French republic, Emmanuel Macron, is hoping for a very quick reconstruction time: the head of state’s goal would be to see the cathedral’s roof rebuilt within five years. Thus, in late April, at a meeting of the council of ministers, a bill was presented to give the government the option of starting the work with an ordonnance, which is an urgent measure taken by the government in matters that are normally regulated by law. In the bill it is clearly written in Article 9 that the government can “proceed with derogations or modifications that apply to the rules of town planning, environmental protection, roads and transportation, in addition to the rules on public contracts and public domain. These waivers or amendments may be equally applied [...] to the rules of heritage conservation, particularly the rules of law on properties built in the vicinity of historical monuments.”

This bill has raised the ire of the French cultural world, which circulated an open letter signed by more than a thousand personalities including conservators, architects, professors and other professionals, the full text of which we reproduce translated from the French.

"Mr. President,

on the evening of April 15, the eyes of the whole world turned toward the burned Notre-Dame Cathedral, remembering how this monument does not belong only to Catholics, Parisians, Frenchmen or Europeans: it is one of those buildings that the genius of its builders has linked to humanity. France endowed itself very early on, in part due to the influence of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece novel, which sounded like a speech in defense of historic monuments, with legislation that serves not only to protect historic monuments but also to provide a framework for action when they are mutilated by the ravages of time or men. Since 1862, the government has chosen to place the Paris cathedral, then undergoing restoration, under the protection of this law. More than a century later, it was still under the impetus of France, among other countries, that UNESCO chose to establish a World Heritage List, after identifying precise criteria for protection. In 1991, France requested and obtained the inclusion, on this list, of the banks of the Seine in Paris, making particular reference to the presence of the Notre-Dame cathedral and especially to the existence of a perspective that was formed between the Middle Ages and the beginning of the 20th century, protected as such.

Such protection could not have existed without a deontology imposed on all those who work around the management, conservation and restoration of these monuments. Again, France has played a pioneering role, thanks to the reflections of Jean-Baptiste Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, developed as a result of their work in the Île de la Cité, allaa Sainte-Chapelle and Notre-Dame. This deontology evidently underwent evolutions. It led to the Venice Charter in 1964, supplemented by the Nara Document in 1994, texts that set an internationally recognized framework for interventions on monuments, as much for conservation operations as for restoration or partial reconstruction.

Throughout this history, France has always played a leading role, relying on institutes of excellence that have trained preservation specialists, recognized internationally, and capable of attracting students from all over the world (École de Chaillot, Institut national du patrimoine, universities, and the compagnonnage system that is now also inscribed in the Intangible Heritage of Humanity). It is no coincidence that the headquarters of the International Council of Sites and Monuments is located in Paris. Evidence of this excellence of France in the heritage sector was also seen during the exemplary intervention of the firefighters, whose action made it possible to avert a far worse disaster, and during the actions that made it possible to consolidate, in the emergency phase, the cathedral, and to evacuate the essential transportable works during the week. We have the knowledge that we escaped a disaster of greater proportions, that of the destruction of the cathedral and the consequent disappearance of the 850 years of history it preserves.

Unfortunately, this excellence has also been somewhat forgotten by previous governments, and with it has been forgotten the national investment in heritage preservation: as the Senate report on the 2019 budget bill shows, the resources allocated to historic monuments, outside of major projects, decreased between 2010 and 2012, before stabilizing after 2013. Therefore, for a long time, there have been increasing alarms about the insufficiency of these resources, which oblige to privilege emergency works, such as those that will affect Notre-Dame, rather than a truly planned approach.

Today the drama is here, and we are all facing it. Notre-Dame is not just a cathedral, it is not just one of the most important monuments of European architecture. It is one of the monuments around which, in the space of about two centuries, French and world preservation and ethics regarding historic monuments have been formed. The emotion surrounding it has shown how this drama is of global proportions, and we have yet to understand what its historical significance is.

This is why we, academics, researchers and heritage professionals, from France and abroad, take the liberty of addressing you, Mr. President, to ask you, as Jean Nouvel put it so well, to ’let the time of diagnosis of historians and experts pass before pronouncing on the future of the monument.’ We know that the political calendar calls for quick action; we know how much a mutilated Notre-Dame weighs on France’s image. Nonetheless, what will happen to Notre-Dame in the years to come affects us all, far beyond this calendar. The challenge entailed by these works will transcend political mandates and generations, and we will be judged by how we have met that challenge.

Likewise, we do not look to you to predict either solution. It is too early. What could be done or not done, what will be the possible choices? As of today, we cannot answer these questions. It will depend on technical reasons evaluated according to the state of the building. But these choices will have to be made with respect for what Notre-Dame represents, more than a cathedral among others, more than a historic monument among others, maintaining a scrupulous approach, a reflection of deontology. The history of Notre-Dame de Paris means that the scope of the fire goes beyond its material consequences. You have stated, Mr. President, that you want to restore Notre-Dame. This is also our wish for all, but to do so we must not ignore the complexity of the processes that must drive this goal, as well as the necessary efficiency. Let us take the time to do some analysis. The executive cannot avoid listening to experts; France trains some of the best in the world, and some of them are in your administration, at the Ministry of Culture. Let their professionalism be recognized, let us take the time to find the right path and then, yes, then we will set an ambitious goal for exemplary restoration not only for the present but also for generations to come.

The excellence of the knowledge of French craftsmen and companies, their experience, that of architects, the knowledge of conservators, historians, are recognized worldwide. The special role of the cathedral has attracted, worldwide, the attention of academics and numerous research programs whose results are available to us today. These resources, French and international, put France in the best position to re-establish Notre-Dame in its dignity as a symbol. Let us be able to listen to them. Let us try to trust them, have confidence in them, let us try not to delay but also not to be hasty. The world is watching us. Today, it is not only about making a gesture that concerns architecture, but it is about millions of gestures, humble and experienced, governed by science and knowledge, within the framework of a renewed patrimonial policy, ambitious and willing, concerned about each monument, and that will once again give Victor Hugo’s cathedral (ours, His), its own place and function in history and in the future."

Pictured: the fire at Notre-Dame. Ph. Credit

Notre Dame, bill is being studied to skip preservation rules to speed up reconstruction. Cultural professionals protest
Notre Dame, bill is being studied to skip preservation rules to speed up reconstruction. Cultural professionals protest

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.