About
Feedback
Login
NEWS
ORGANIZATIONS
PROJECTS
PRODUCTS
1 to 32 of 32
Alex Chomicz
Through inventive tectonics, Wilson Architects has overlaid a picturesque landscape experience with allusions to an earlier settler culture.

An architect’s stance is conditioned by personal preoccupations, as well as those of the cultural, regulatory and disciplinary settings in which the architect works. The architect for this project, Hamilton Wilson, has a whimsical streak – nurtured first in his undergraduate years through painting, drawing and theatre productions with friends, and in later life alongside his late mother, the renowned Brisbane landscape architect Beth Wilson, in a scholarship of garden design that has resulted in a deep understanding of the gardenesque tradition predominant in Brisbane’s suburban landscape.

The Kooroomba Chapel adopts a traditional chapel form for its remarkable setting. However, through careful siting, landscape design and tectonics, Wilson alludes to moods – in particular, the eighteenth-century traditions of the Pastoral, the Picturesque and the Sublime – and ideas that have long been of interest to him. Consequently, this project sits apart from the preoccupations of current Australian practice in its concern for how, in the twenty-first century, buildings and landscape can together trigger visceral responses and associations that themselves have a long history in architecture and landscape.

Kooroomba Estate is a vineyard and lavender farm in the Fassifern Valley, west of Brisbane. The estate was formerly part of the Bell family’s extensive and historic land holding. Architect Guilford Bell’s early childhood home Kooroomba was on this holding and he spent many hours playing in his grandmother’s celebrated homestead, Coochin Coochin, nearby.1 The chapel commission follows Wilson Architects’ earlier site planning and design for Kooroomba Estate’s cellar door, restaurant and shop. The estate is nestled against the escarpment of Main Range, part of the Great Dividing Range and the Queensland portion of the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests. Air masses rising against these ancient escarpments generate local weather; the consequent variations in light and atmospheric pressure dramatically alter the appearance and character of Main Range. Against this foreboding backdrop, Wilson orchestrates a picturesque landscape experience to please even the fussiest of brides.

While the chapel’s belfry and gable roof are momentarily visible from the highway, it is only fully encountered after passing through the existing restaurant complex. When it reappears across fields of lavender and against the backdrop of Main Range, it is a surprise. The tiny building, presenting two facades obliquely in the classical manner, is formed from unlined timber frames supporting rampant hoya vines and is half buried in heaving beds of purple salvias. To the knowing eye, the carefully constructed scene suggests romantic notions of a ruin in the landscape or a bower in a garden. The profusion of this pastoral setting and its picturesque layering of space against the background of Main Range will only be further enhanced when the circle of trees enclosing the lavender field mature.

The chapel’s exact location and orientation in the centre of a natural bowl were fixed by the architect and builder onsite, to focus attention from within on Mount Moon, one of a series of remnant volcanic plugs isolated from Main Range itself. The unlined frame means the escarpment towering above lavender fields and farmland provides the real setting for vows. There is a strong sense of the sublime – think Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, although Wilson is inclined towards Westworld.

Wilson intended the wedding chapel to evoke memories of archetypal bush chapels. It certainly is suggestive of the many disintegrating timber structures that dot the surrounding rural landscape, reminders of the expansion and contraction of settlement. But it also recalls more knowing uses of the timber frame – Richard Gailey’s nineteenth- century single-skin timber schools and churches, and Robin Dods’s All Saints Memorial Church (1915) at nearby Tamrookum come to mind. Another architect from this region, Russell Hall, who grew up in the Fassifern Valley, traces his own use of the single-skin frame to the simple farm buildings of his childhood.

Wilson’s particular take on this idiom comprises a series of steel portals isolated from the floor structure to reduce the impact of differential movement caused by the black soil conditions. Panels of rough-sawn and unseasoned timber stud and trellis
Gensler
The Pavillon Notre-Dame, which could be situated next to the historic church, allows visitors a temporary place for worship and reflection

It's been just over 100 days since the world was absorbed by the heart-wrenching images of a fire burning the sacred Notre-Dame cathedral to the ground. Thankfully, as has been well documented, the building was saved, due in large part to the heroism and quick thinking of several Parisian officials. Of course, in the days immediately following the flames that threatened to consume the church, there was a river of funds sent to rebuild the church. And with it, a massive international competition to rebuild the storied structure. And as of today, there's real hope for a temporary space to be built for visitors to come, pray, and reflect, right outside of the church walls.

Designed by the international firm Gensler, the building has been dubbed the Pavillon Notre-Dame and, if built, will be located in the Parvis Square, mere feet away from the church. While the design is still in the conceptual stage, the structure could see the light of day in six months' time, pending Emmanuel Macron’s approval.

Ensuring that Notre-Dame remains the center of attention, the design is appropriately simple, an elegant structure that exudes an ethereal ambiance. Most symbolic, perhaps, in Gensler's design is the use of charred timber throughout the space. The timber, which has been locally procured from certified renewable sources, will be charred and added throughout. Of course, as many who witnessed the aftermath of the fire know, more than 1,300 individual beams of timber (some which were over 800 years old) were charred to the point of collapse.

On the far end of Gensler's rectangular structure is an altar. Behind this pagan motif is a series of movable objects that, when pushed aside, allow viewers uninhibited views of the church. "We designed this conceptual proposal in response to calls from Notre-Dame's rector, Bishop Patrick Chauvet, to create an ephemeral cathedral that would be transparent and flooded with light," says Duncan Swinhoe, regional managing principal at Gensler. "Our design includes translucent walls and an ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) cushioned rooftop. These materials create a space that is filled with light and emblematic of Paris, acting as a beacon of hope for Parisians and the international community."

Gensler hasn't submitted the design in the form of a competition, but rather offered it as a gift to the city of Paris. While the Pavillon Notre-Dame would be used for mass services—much like the church it's meant to temporarily replace—the makeshift space has multiple purposes. "It was important for the structure to primarily act as a place of worship, and it mirrors the configuration of Notre Dame for mass services for up to 800 people," says Swinhoe. "But we also wanted to reflect in our design what cathedrals were always intended to do—bring people together. That’s why we designed a space that's flexible in its ability to support the entire community."

Jaime Navarro
Mexico City

How do you find spirituality on a tiny site shoehorned onto a frenetic, traffic-clogged corner in the megalopolis of Mexico City? This was the question that Cherem Arquitectos had to ponder when they took on the commission to build the Birkat Itzjak synagogue in the Lomas del Chamizal neighborhood on the city’s western periphery.

In recent years, this enclave, home to low-rise residential buildings interspersed with dry cleaners, convenience stores, and other small businesses, has undergone a transformation as developers purchased lots to build luxury high-rise housing. The burgeoning population includes an Orthodox Sephardic Jewish community, named Maguén David, that, with all the growth, soon found itself in need of a new space to worship. Because driving a car is among the activities forbidden on Shabbat, the Sabbath, the group saw value in this 6,000-square-foot site, which, despite its awkwardness—atop a hill and hemmed in by streets on three sides—is within walking distance of the legions of residential towers. The funds to build were donated by a single family within the community.

Inside, as well as out, the building is its own island. “One of our first thoughts,” says principal Abraham Cherem, “was that, given the surroundings, which aren’t that nice, it was not a place to open views. We needed to make it introspective, its own shell.” And, adds partner José Antonio Aguilar, “we had to figure out how to bring in natural light without having conventional windows.” The steel-frame building, which is clad in travertine, is a simple rectangle in form and appears almost as a solid mass. (It has no sign or iconography, in part to “keep it quiet,” the architects say, and as a security measure.) Light enters through an arrangement of small rectangular apertures on the building’s long southern side, which are shaded by fixed, eyelid-like louvers made of the same travertine and hung at 21 degrees. On the front, east-facing facade, steel structural ribs rise the height of the building, framing thin sheets of cloudy white onyx that carry light into the synagogue on all levels (this strategy is mimicked at the back, with clear glazing in place of the stone). Acoustic laminated glass behind the onyx and elsewhere, and double layers of drywall sandwiched between the exterior and interior travertine walls, reduce noise transmittal.

In addition to the limited square footage, the site came with a height restriction of about 70 feet, presenting a challenge for packing in the all the spaces the institution desired for its congregation of about 2,000. The program is stacked neatly into the envelope. Three levels of below-grade parking accommodate cars on non-Sabbath days, necessary given the limited space on the surrounding narrow streets. On top of this, also below grade, is the midrash, or study room, a double-height space that can be viewed (as well as accessed by an open-tread travertine stair) from the entry vestibule above, which sits at ground level and is entered from the small side street to the south. A multifunction room for gatherings and celebrations, which opens onto a protected, travertine-enclosed courtyard, sits on top of that. The next level holds the sanctuary and men’s seating area of the temple, with the women’s section above in the mezzanine flanking the double-height space on three sides. At the top will be the women’s ritual baths, which have yet to be completed.

On the Sabbath, when the elevator is off limits, worshippers use a generous straight run of stairs off the front, main entry. Rising along the mostly opaque northern side, it connects all the floors and is drenched in light, entering through a strip of clear glass that extends the full height of the front facade as well as a skylight running the length of this slot-like zone. Throughout the interiors, travertine and walnut line the floors, walls, and ceilings, accented by inflections of brass. The tight material palette complements straightforward floor plans and the understated language of the architecture, contributing to a contemplative mood for prayer and the pursuit of wisdom.

The east-west axis of the site was serendipitous. Since synagogues must be oriented toward Jerusalem, the building fit the site nicely, with the short end of the rectilinear form facing east and, of course, the rising sun. Sit
Eight Inc.
Eight Inc, the studio that developed the Apple Store concept, wants to accurately reconstruct Notre-Dame's roof and spire using structural glass.

After the French senate passed a bill stating Notre-Dame Cathedral must be returned to its "last known visual state", Eight Inc has suggested that this could be achieved using a modern material.

The studio believes that structural glass could be used to create formally identical versions of the parts of the Paris building destroyed in the fire on 15 April.

"I believe this definitive example of French gothic architecture requires a deep respect and appreciation of the history and intent of the original design," said Tim Kobe, founder and CEO of Eight Inc.

"Its proportions, scale and detail brings life to the architecture," he added. "It should not be about the ego of a new architectural expression but a solution to honour this historic structure."

Eight Inc is best known for working with Steve Jobs to develop the concept for the first Apple Stores, which opened in 2001.

Like the Apple Stores, this latest proposal centres around the idea of transparency. Structural glass is thicker and tougher than standard glass, so it can be installed without the visual mess of a supporting framework.

Kobe's team believes glass offers the best opportunity to respect the scale and texture of the original design, while also invoking "the memory and temporal nature of the building".

"The spiritual and luminous qualities of the material allows for both the accurate representation of the form of the original design but also implies the impermanence of architecture and the impermanence of life," reads the project description.

Since the fire, there have been numerous ideas proposed for the French gothic cathedral, ranging from the interesting to the outrageous. Architect Vincent Callebaut proposed a roof that generates energy and food, while Studio Fuksas suggested building a new structure using crystal.

Meanwhile designer Sebastian Errazuriz suggested turning the cathedral into a space-rocket launchpad, in a bid to stop architects producing any more designs.

Although the French senate wants the historic structure to be rebuilt exactly as it last was, French president Emmanuel Macron is keen for "an inventive reconstruction". His prime minister, Edouard Philippe, had previously announced that there would be a design competition.
Joe Fletcher
Albany, California

Mark Cavagnero readily admits that his personal relationship with Catholicism ended after he attended a parish school as a child in Connecticut. So, when he received a request to interview for a commission to design a student chapel for a Catholic high school in the San Francisco Bay Area, he wasn’t sure he was up to the task.

“My faith had wavered, to say the least,” Cavagnero recalls. But then he began to think about the intersection of spirituality and architecture in a broader way—as “idealized space that could offer empathy, with room for contemplation that may, or may not, include prayer.”

Additional Content:
Jump to credits & specifications

That impulse is now embodied in a small structure of concrete and glass at the entrance to St. Mary’s College High School, in Albany, California. Unapologetically modern yet suffused with tranquil warmth, it serves as a symbolic portal to the campus, as well as an open refuge for students seeking inspiration or solitude, often at conflicted times in their lives.

Unlike other buildings on the 12.5-acre campus, most of which were built as needed during the past 30 years and have a vague air of Mission Revival style, the 4,400-square-foot chapel makes a striking first impression. Just inside the campus’s entry gate, off a shaded street of single-family homes, a rectangular concrete “ steeple” rises, its back pitched and its eastward face inset with glass that is divided into quarters by a thin metal cross. Around and behind the tower, like rectangular ridges beneath a mountain peak, the building’s lower sections hold the chapel and a small sacristy.

The religious imagery is obvious. But the steeple, a great, hollowed-out light shaft, also allows morning sunlight to slice into the sanctuary, illuminating the altar, where a priest addresses the pupils, who often gather for brief talks or services before classes begin. Later in the day, when a student might come on his or her own, the altar fades into the shadows while the chapel is lit from behind.

“It seemed important to break the room down into different scales,” explains Cavagnero, who in 2015 won the coveted Maybeck Award from the AIA California Council. “I was thinking about what it would be like if I was going through a moment of stress in my life. I’d want a space where I could think and brood and wonder.”

While the morning light is clean and direct, the afternoon sun—entering through floor-to-ceiling glass panels at the chapel’s southwest corner—fills the sanctuary with a diffused glow. A clerestory window of frosted glass, tucked along the north edge of the space, evens out the illumination without calling attention to itself.

The pews are white oak. So are the slats along the chapel’s southern wall—positioned not only to direct light toward the front of the chapel, but also to form a screen that blocks distracting outside views from the pews. The floor is smooth Alabama limestone. The vertical plane behind the altar is the same stone, but split-face, and the other walls are of white Portland cement. “The best way to make a space that’s visually and spiritually quiet,” suggests Cavagnero, “is to use as few elements as possible, and to keep them under control.”

The architect was less successful, however, in his quest to make the chapel feel like a sanctuary entirely apart from the hectic commotion of a high school with more than 600 students, and other challenging conditions. Though the site parallels a creek lined with tall redwood trees—hints of nature that filter into the chapel and its courtyard—it’s also bordered by a service road. The tower, meanwhile, faces a wide asphalt roadway and a utility building.

To counter these encroachments, the design moves the chapel entrance to the site’s rear, in a small courtyard, reached from the east by a pathway, flanked by Cavagnero’s building on one side and, on the other, by a concrete wall that drops from 8 to 4 feet high as it nears the courtyard. When the three Japanese maples that are part of Andrea Cochran’s landscape design grow in, the sense of passage should feel more natural. It’s an imaginative response to a challenging site, but a self-consciously choreographed one, as well.

Once inside the chapel, though, emotional resonance emerges in the way clean details are infused with higher purpose. The choic
AIA
In his essay “Paris Not Flooded,” Roland Barthes asks us to see the great flood of January 1955 as a creative force that erased roads and sidewalks. It forced Parisians to row to the grocer and priests to enter churches in canoes, “making disaster itself provide evidence that the world is manageable.”

If Barthes were to write “Notre-Dame Not Ablaze,” he might ask us to see the April 15 fire and its aftermath as evidence of something useful like a lesson or a sacrament. It will be a long while before that evidence is revealed in full, but the dangers of faulty wiring, a smoldering cigarette near highly combustible materials, or failed fire suppression safeguards were all causal frontrunners at press time.

French authorities, represented by the Ministry of Culture, are still assessing the damage at Notre-Dame, which is part of a larger UNESCO World Heritage site that includes the surrounding Île de la Cité and, as such, is subject to special preservation mandates. The Ministry of Culture is also receiving advice from a dedicated UNESCO team, which includes representatives from ICCROM and ICOMOS International, according to Paris-based Mechtild Rössler, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

“Notre Dame is like a history book illustrating the evolution of the construction and different approaches to restoration over time,” says Rössler. “The UNESCO team experts were chosen by their institutions for the specific expertise required, especially in risk assessments and knowledge on conservation and rehabilitation, and they are at the disposal of the French authorities.”

President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to rebuild within five years (in time for the 2024 Olympics in Paris) elicited strong responses from several observers. Meredith Cohen, associate professor of medieval art and architecture at UCLA, called it “simplistic bravado.” Conservative pundit Anne-Elisabeth Moutet called the promise “the arrogance of an unpopular president trying for wokeness.” (To Moutet’s chagrin, Macron’s popularity gained three points between March and April, which pundits attributed to his post-fire commitment to rebuilding.) But, reading between the lines of Macron’s vague promise, the real question is how much of Notre-Dame’s recovery will be a restoration, renovation, or something else entirely, which seems to be a philosophical question as well as a technical one.

Thanks to advances in digital imaging and virtual modeling over the last decade, we know nearly everything about the measurable aspects of Notre-Dame. The late Andrew Tallon, associate professor of art at Vassar College, reportedly logged one billion data points on the structure in an extensive survey. French video game developer Ubisoft also owns a substantial cache of digital models created for its 2014 game “Assassin’s Creed: Unity.” In addition, Paris-based graphic design consultancy Art Graphique et Patrimoine (AGP) and surveyors Géomètres-Experts (GEA) partnered to model Notre-Dame in recent years; like Tallon’s scans, their measurements detail the cathedral in millimetric terms—a granular level that’s hard for the naked eye to discern, much less remember. These scans, in other words, will be critical to any future effort to rebuild any part of the cathedral.

Will Rourk, a cultural heritage data specialist at the University of Virginia (UVA) Library Scholars’ Lab, specializes in 3D documentation of artefacts and buildings using scanners and photogrammetry. He’s scanned a range of historic buildings, including Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village at UVA and Monticello, south of Charlottesville, and supplied the data to architects and preservationists to aid in reconstruction or repair. Rourk’s work centers on what he calls infomatics, or leveraging technology to record and remember structures slated for demolition or to re-create elements of them for repair work. That level of documentation, notes Rourk, used to be achieved with a ruler, a profile comb composed of metal teeth, mylar sheets, and ink pens. Now, laser scanners can create data points that combine to form point clouds and then export it all to CAD and BIM software to create 3D models. “That means that if the reconstruction of Notre-Dame was to be faithful to the original,” says Rourk, “then the data could be used to help with this reconstruction, and the efforts towards authentic recon
Miysis Studio
Miysis Studio has proposed combining a reconstruction of Notre-Dame's spire with a modern glazed roof to "find the right balance between history and future" for the cathedral.

The visualisation studio created the images as an idea of how the cathedral, which was devastated by fire last month, could be rebuilt using both traditional and modern elements.

It proposes rebuilding the spire, which was designed by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century, as a replica of the one that was lost.

While the spire would be reconstructed, the original 13th-century roof would be replaced with a modern structure constructed from a timber and steel frame.

"We propose to reconstruct the original spire while building a new glass roof," explained Denis Stevens, CEO of Miysis Studio.

"We also wanted to mix traditional wood and new materials to find the right balance between history and future," he told Dezeen.

Alongside the reconstructed spire, the roof would be built to match the dimensions and volumes of the original roof structure.

The glass-covered roof space, which would replace the timber structure known as the Forest, would become a garden for visitors.

Beds containing planting would be arranged along the space's edges, while full-sized trees would be planted along the centre of the building.

"What could be more natural than paying homage to this place through a real vegetated space?" said the studio.

Following French president French prime minister Edouard Philippe's announcement that there would be a competition to replace the cathedral's spire, several practices have proposed radical designs.

"We do not claim that this is the project Notre-Dame needs, this is only our vision of a potential way to rebuild this wonderful cathedral," said Stevens.

However the designer does believe the right solution will offer a balance between restoration and a modern structure.

Kieran Kesner for CyArk.
New technologies will make it easier to restore heritage sites like Notre Dame

On the evening of Monday, April 15, as the horrific blaze that originated on the roof of Notre Dame spread, worst case scenarios led many to contemplate the irreplaceable loss of the architectural icon. But, as a global audience watched and waited on social media, there was a piece of good news: a high-tech blueprint of the church existed.

In 2010, a time-consuming, five-day laser scan of the cathedral had been done by late art historian and Vassar College professor Andrew Tallon. He was able to create a 3D model of the building by capturing one billion points of data, a detailed digital blueprint for any future restorations or repairs, and one of the highest-profile examples of how this new type of record is reshaping how the world protects its great buildings and historic sites.

“You never know what questions you’re going to need to ask,” says Michael Rogers, a professor at Ithaca College who specializes in laser scanning and preservation. “Think about the work that’ll take place at Notre Dame. They’ll need to know a whole range of things they can’t think of yet. Somebody might want to know how two beams were joined, and perhaps it wasn’t written down. They can just go to the laser scans.”

Preservation playing out in a point cloud

As preservationists and architects continue analyzing Notre Dame, figuring out how to restore, preserve, and protect this gem of French Gothic architecture, they’ll have the benefit of technological tools that have radically changed how buildings can be restored.

Often adapted from other fields, such as archeology and medicine, this new technology has made it easier to evaluate, compare, and repair, often with little to no physical damage to existing sites. Laser scanning, one of the primary ways a new generation of preservationists have digitally recorded and mapped out sites, isn’t exactly cutting-edge; anybody can pick up a simple version of this technology at Home Depot. But as it gets faster and most importantly cheaper (full site scans can cost $40,000), and increasingly augmented by a digital photos, it allows buildings to be frozen in time in what’s called point clouds, which function as detailed 3D models.

The data opens up numerous possibilities: pre-emptive repairs in response to future natural disasters, virtual tours of famous buildings, and 3D-printed replacements of detailed artwork and design features.

“This data is perfect for visualization and telling the stories of these sites,” says Rogers. “You can share the power of these sites with the same data you’re using to manage, preserve, and restore them.

Laser scanning saves building with a billion points of light

While many new tools of the trade make it easier to do repairs today, the increased prevalence of laser scanning is really about protecting historic sites in the future.

The technology is relatively simple: a laser shoots a beam of light at a wall, measures the time it takes to bounce back, and creates a point that, after millions and even billions of similar measurements are taken, creates a 3D model of a structure. Today’s standard laser scans of buildings take a point every five millimeters, or the thickness of four stacked dimes.
KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
More than 1,000 international architectural experts have urged President Emmanuel Macron to drop his “unrealistic” insistence on rebuilding Notre-Dame within five years after a huge fire destroyed its roof and spire.

Some 1,170 leading academics and architects from France, Britain, the United States and other countries signed an open letter in Le Figaro newspaper on Monday pleading for the French government to allow time to decide how to tackle the restoration.

Rushing ahead with a plan that could prove ill-conceived would be disastrous, they warned.

“We know that the political calendar requires quick action, we know how much a disfigured Notre-Dame affects the image of France,” the letter says. “[But] the challenge of these works goes far beyond political terms of office, beyond generations, and we will be judged by how we respond.”

The letter emphasises the enormous cultural importance of the cathedral in the heart of Paris, not just to France but across the globe. “The whole world watched as Notre-Dame was engulfed by flames,” it points out.

Critics say Mr Macron’s five-year deadline is partly motivated by his wish for the cathedral to be rebuilt in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, and for progress to be visible before his term of office ends in 2022. But many architects say the time-frame is unrealistic.

The letter says: “We, academics, researchers, heritage professionals, from France and elsewhere, are now coming to you, Monsieur le Président, to ask, as Jean Nouvel [the French architect] put it so well, that ‘historians and experts be given time for diagnosis before [you] take a decision on the future of the monument’.”

Philippe Plagnieux, a professor of art history, said: “The risk is that people who haven’t got enough experience in restoring historic monuments will be called in to get the job done quickly.”

Alexandre Gady, a Sorbonne professor who signed the letter, criticised the government’s plan to launch an international architectural competition to redesign the roofline of the cathedral. “This has naturally allowed all sorts of architects pining for fame to blow their own trumpets off the back of the cathedral,” he said.

Investigators believe the catastrophic fire on April 15 was started accidentally, possibly by an electrical short circuit. They have been questioning cathedral staff and workers who were carrying out renovations.

The authorities have warned people living near Notre-Dame to clean their homes thoroughly to remove lead-laden dust from the blaze. Tests have shown that smoke carried particles of the toxic metal from the frame and spire.

Wikipedia Commons
The tragedy that struck one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved landmarks offers France a chance to heal after months of civil unrest. As with any unfortunate event, sympathy from a horrified world will be followed by prognostications over issues surrounding the fire and its aftermath. Foremost among these will be approaches to restoring the missing historic elements that now lie in rubble on the floor of the cathedral.

I have spent my professional life working in building conservation and architectural history, with particular expertise in historic religious buildings. Like many churches, Notre-Dame has seen its congregation change during the past 50 years and has faced fundraising challenges in procuring necessary funds for maintenance and restoration. The fire that nearly destroyed the church was most likely caused by construction activity near Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s cast-iron spire at the center of the transept. The irony of this will not be lost on those familiar with medieval restoration, or with 19th century construction.

Viollet-le-Duc (1814–1879) invented modern restoration—both theory and practice. His first laboratory was Notre-Dame de Paris, and he spent virtually his entire professional life studying the cathedral and restoring it. Indeed, everything he added, subtracted, or restored is documented in extensive records and writings. Nothing he built at Notre-Dame was as controversial, or as beloved, as the 180-foot spire that fell last Monday. The cathedral had no spire when he began work in 1844 (the previous one had been removed in 1786). It also had no lead gutters and leaders, no gargoyle scuppers, and no metal transept statues. These modern improvements were entirely conceived and designed by France’s 19th century restoration genius.

Viollet-le-Duc has both champions and detractors in the French conservation community. Among architects, his name is often associated with both “rationalism” and “historicism,” contrasting ideals in modern architecture. There should be no doubt about French ambivalence toward the eventual restoration of not only his spire, but also roof construction above the historic timber rafters that burned last week. Still, the abrupt announcement of an architectural competition for designs to replace the spire was a surprise to many who see the existing fabric as sacrosanct. Like President Emmanuel Macron’s hasty promise to restore the building in five years, the announcement does not bode well for a satisfactory restoration effort.

French architects are among the most technology-obsessed designers in the world, and therefore are not likely to favor by-the-book restoration of all historic materials and elements. Paradoxically, France also has some of the best government restoration organizations, and many of the finest building craftsmen in Europe. Many restoration specialists are trained by Les Compagnons du Devoir, a trade and education organization founded by Pierre de Coubertin at the beginning of the 20th century. Hand skills and artisanal knowledge are highly valued.

These facts make conflicts between government, the architectural profession, and the restoration trade community inevitable. Observers from countries like England and Germany are already offering advice on how to address some of the contentious issues, but there is no culture quite like French culture when it comes to parochial things like heritage. Preserving la grande patrimoine is a sacred cause, but one that Parisians argue about incessantly. The nation will not rally behind a straightforward restoration program, as England did after fires at Hampton Court and Windsor Castle. With contributions coming from the fashion industry, any solution will have to be à la mode.

Still, there is a historical imperative at work that favors the retention of elements that are essential to the history of modern restoration, as practiced by its most influential architect. Viollet-le-Duc’s work at Notre-Dame is as significant in its own right as anything built there during the 12th and 13th centuries. Hearing the mayor of Paris talk of a new spire is deeply troubling to all who understand this fact. Even more troubling are articles by ill-informed critics such as Aaron Betsky, who argue for a rethink of the entire building. As a UNESCO heritage site, the cathedral of Notre-Dame must be treated not only as a Parisian landmark, but also as a
Studio Fuksas
Since the fire devastated Notre-Dame Cathedral and the French prime minister announced a competition to replace its spire, a flurry of designers have offered alternative proposals. Here are seven of the most interesting.

Studio Fuksas

Italian architects Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas have proposed adding a contemporary roof and spire made from Baccarat crystal to the cathedral, which would be lit up at night.

"A crystal spiral symbol of the fragility of history and spirituality. Light as a symbol of immateriality," the studio told Dezeen.

Mathieu Lehanneur

French designer Mathieu Lehanneur proposes replacing the spire not with a replica of what was built 150 years ago, but what was there during the fire.

"In a provocative way, I proposed to rebuild the spire as it was, following the most conservative people, but as it was last week!" Lehanneur told Dezeen.

"I love this idea of a frozen moment in the history that can remains for centuries. The project is a monumental permanent flame covered with golden leaves. For me, it's a way to capture the catastrophe and turn it into beauty, turning ephemeral into permanency."

Vizumatelier

Bratislava based Vizumatelier's proposal for the spire is a lightweight tower topped with a beam of light that will shine directly upward.

"In gothic times builders try to reach the sky. Viollet le Duc tried it also in the 19th century and came closer. Now it's possible to make it happen," said the studio.
Common Edge
ast month in Peru, as my partner and I ascended a grassy knoll toward a misty window of what is known as the “classic view” of the Incan citadel, our cusqueño guide, Nick, asked, “What do you think is older, Machu Picchu or the Notre-Dame in Paris?”

“Machu Picchu,” we answered.

Of course, we thought: Surely the exposed walls and strewn boulders of Machu Picchu, one of the world’s seven wonders, were more aged than the colossal columns of yellowed stone where chiseled gargoyles and copper-green saints alike stand protective. Of course, Nick was ready to point out, this was everybody’s answer, and this same collective wisdom is wrong: Construction on Notre-Dame started in 1160; Machu Picchu was built around 1450. The heart of Paris, Notre-Dame, our lady, the Gothic cathedral on Ile de la Cité overlooking the Seine, grand and sculpted as she is, is three centuries older than the block-by-block urban constructions of the Incan empire.

In the following weeks I would ask my friends the same question; everyone was surprised by the age of the elegant French dame. She hovered in my mind like a priceless piece of trivia—until last week, when she burned.

I lived in Paris, on and off, for three years. It is where friends would find me when school ended, when I needed to earn money, when my heart broke, when I wanted to fall in love again, when my family in Singapore didn’t want to open their doors.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Paris means to me, as someone who doesn’t have a stable home. It has a lot to do with how the Parisians knelt and sang “Hail Mary” and “Ava Maria” when the cathedral burned, their faces aglow in horror and in love, both incandescent.

I’ve always known the French to have a fondness for their country, and each other, and the tactile monuments and numerous sublime moments that consecrate this fraternité.

I remember it in how the Parisians sang when I watched them play in the Stade de France at the Euro Cup in 2016. I had purchased my own flight and tickets to the game as a present to myself, a reward for graduating from college, a promise kept to my younger, freshman self, who vowed to visit the quadrennial soccer tournament upon earning that degree. But it wasn’t just the stadium that shook: On the way to the stadium, everyone on le Métro was painting each other’s faces, drumming the national anthem on metal poles, giving each other kisses. Strangers would speak to me in French; lay blue, red and white garlands on my neck; stick temporary tattoos on my skin, sealed by their hot, excited palms. At every stop, when newcomers arrived, we would rally and serenade them with song. It became a continuous initiation.

I’ve come to associate it with how, on Bastille Day, the French would flow onto the streets like a river—everyone on the same slow, insouciant current toward the Eiffel Tower, where, at sundown, fireworks would sparkle and wane to the tune of La Marseillaises, the French national anthem.

I’ve always joked that it was the only national anthem I knew how to sing. I had somehow forgotten my own.

The French are often associated with a kind of nationalism, but what’s surprising to me is how open-source it seems, that everyone can seemingly subscribe to it. It’s why so many French families in Paris and Lyon and Bourg-en-Bresse have opened up their homes to me on random moments in my life, why I know so many women—from the Philippines to the Ivory Coast to Syria to Kurdistan—who come to seek shelter here, why we found friendship and community in each other.

When Notre-Dame burned, so many of us saw a remote part of ourselves surface and smolder away. For me, it was the memory of a busker singing “Imagine” in front of the bell towers on my 20th birthday, when I was with a French man I had met that day, who drove me from the outskirts of Paris into the city to see this sight; it was when I worked as an au pair three years later and would sit in those pews as reprieve after dropping off three rowdy French children at the local piscine (swimming pool); it was when I was lonely at night and would sit on the bank of the Seine, lit up by her towering majesty, shrouded in a painless solitude; it was when I hadn’t spoken to anyone in a while, but would wander inside to listen to the choir and organ and feel comforted by the bellowing noise, the la
Foster + Partners
Norman Foster has jumped into the international competition to design a replacement spire for Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, proposing a glass-and-steel topper to replace the cathedral’s ruined roof.

According to an interview in English publication The Times, Foster presented his vision for a new “light and airy” roof for the fire-ravaged cathedral. The previous attic space dated back to the 12th century and was nicknamed “The Forest,” as it contained a tangle of 1,300 timber frames, each coming from a unique oak tree—the sheer amount of wood likely fed the fire that ravaged it last week.

Foster’s updated vision for the cathedral calls for installing a glass topper, arched to mimic the original wooden roof, ribbed with lightweight steel supports. The new spire would be made of glass and steel and could potentially include an observation deck at its base.

“In every case, the replacement used the most advanced building technology of the age,” Foster told The Guardian. “It never replicated the original. In Chartres, the 12th-century timbers were replaced in the 19th century by a new structure of cast iron and copper. The decision to hold a competition for the rebuilding of Notre Dame is to be applauded because it is an acknowledgment of that tradition of new interventions.”

The modernization scheme drew an immediate reaction online, where social media users compared the revamped cathedral to a Foster-designed Apple store or the glass Reichstag dome in Berlin. Additionally, several people pointed out that the plan to flood the interior with light would be hamstrung by the stone vaulted ceiling below the attic space and would blow out any light coming in from the historic stained-glass windows.

Of course, Foster isn’t the only architect to propose a radical overhaul of the 19th -century spire. Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, known for his neo-Gothic, laser-cut steel sculptures, announced last week that he would be entering the design competition as well.

Since the international competition was announced, plenty of people have gotten creative in envisioning “adaptive reuse” projects that give the historic cathedral a bland, modernist overhaul without regard for its surroundings. Even though these have been done in jest, some of them have come quite close to what Foster has proposed.

Andrea Izzotti
How faithful should we be to the 19th-century version of the cathedral we love?

How should we rebuild Notre Dame? The answer should seem simple: exactly as it was. Like all buildings that have some age on them, however, the Church of Our Lady in Paris is not exactly a virgin, and figuring out what and how to restore a building that has seen bouts of construction for over six centuries is an open question. Most notably, the part (the roof and spire) that burned down on April 15 was mainly the (re)creation of medieval ideas as imagined by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1844.

Luckily, the French authorities are more on the ball than most critics and commentators, most of whom have conveniently left the malleability of the originality of this particular building out of their laments. The Culture Ministry has already announced an international competition to reconstruct or replace Viollet-le-Duc’s spire and roof, which most people assume has been there since the Middle Ages. Whether or not that initiative will truly open itself up to anything but a redo of what has been, in the last century-and-a-half, an integral part of how we perceive Notre Dame, remains to be seen.

Notre Dame was, because of its place in France and French culture, without any doubt the most important descendent of Abbé Suger’s Gothic prototype, Saint-Denis. The semi-mythical inventor of the French Gothic might have inspired more elegant churches, and some of them certainly conform more closely to what we know were his intentions, but the sheer scale and the position of Notre Dame makes it the emblem of that style.

The cathedral’s exterior is, to be honest, not nearly as impressive as its interior. The two towers of the “westwork,” or entrance façade, are not symmetrical and never received their spires. It is the statuary that gives them their character. Most of the church’s body is visible only in glimpses from afar or close. Its most coherent proclamation of faith is that 300-foot-tall spire, Viollet-le-Duc’s re-creation of the original, based both on records and on parallels in other churches. Viollet-le-Duc was also responsible for the reconstruction of the wood roof and the sacristy.

It is the cathedral’s interior that really soars, and that has largely survived the fire. To my surprise, even the stained glass, including the glorious rose window to the east, appear to be largely intact. Most of the bronze statues had also been removed for restoration. In fact, I wonder why there are estimates that the work might cost over a billion euros, as “all” that was destroyed was that superstructure (there is also some damage from the roof falling in over the nave).

The bigger discussion, then, is about what should be reconstructed, how, and why. Most of the medieval and renaissance-era cathedrals we see today are either largely 19th-century re-creations or collages of building campaigns from various eras. While the re-creations or extrapolations—Cologne Cathedral being the most notable—have the advantage of creating a unified impression, the places of worship that have been built up over the centuries have the advantage of offering a variety of different experiences and perspectives on faith and communal devotion. Even Cologne now has a very effective stained-glass addition created by the living artist Gerhard Richter.

If the choice is to either re-create Viollet-le-Duc’s channeling of Suger, or to try to go back, using current science and archival research, to do so in an even more “correct” manner, the main question is whether we should stop there, or try to do a better job not only in reconstructing the roof, but also in finishing the twin towers and other elements of the medieval design (at least as far as we can know it).

If the choice, on the other hand, is to invent something new, what should that be? The internet has filled up with the usual jokes, memes, and half-serious visions that range from domes to a statue of our current Madonna (Ciccone) replacing the spire. I am not sure what a 21st-century spire and roof would look like but know that it would have to both avoid copying and a sense of being an alien object dropped into a well-worn and well-honed icon. The trick would be to figure out what is essential about Suger’s principles and style, and then find a way to realize those ideas and forms without directly copying the copy that was there.

But we also have to ask what not only Catholicism but the notion of
Wikipedia Commons
Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.’” Those tabernacles were the best way that St. Peter could fully express his love of Jesus, but they were just another human stab at loving God, and went unbuilt.

I am touring St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome when word arrives about the fire at Notre-Dame. Here, in the place of Peter’s crucifixion, we learn that another tabernacle has been gutted by fire, that Paris’ greatest sacred building is as fragile as any of its makers. Our guide has a Ph.D. in antiquities and is a devout Catholic. She’s devastated by the loss. Her deep knowledge of religion and history is expressed in the sharing of the endless, intricate realities of man’s conquest of materials and theology at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Meanwhile, a friend monitors Notre-Dame’s incineration: “The windows are gone, the roof is gone, only a few firefighters were there in 10 minutes, and it took an hour for the rest to arrive. An hour.” She is bereft.

But humans made Notre-Dame. They kept it alive and functional, and traveled there in droves, for hundreds of years, to revel in its triumph over the randomness of earth. Whether everyone who visits Notre-Dame or St. Peter’s knows it or not—or even believes it (or not)—the creation of these buildings are celebrations of our gifts to God.

In those uncounted number of efforts, one of those tasks was repair of the roof. This likely means that molten lead was left somewhere, too hot for too long. What was used to keep the rainwater out of Notre Dame Cathedral may have set its dry, ancient roof timbers ablaze.

Thousands of humans built Notre-Dame. One of them may have doomed it. Until we fix it, again. And we will—because we can.

Every building fails over time, just like every human. The love of God that becomes present in the work I do is without beginning or end. It just is. We want to build our devotion and then love what we have built. But faith is not a building. St. Peter was vetoed when he tried to build those tabernacles, but he helped build a place for Grace in the world that lives long after he is dead. What 2,000 years has built will still be there tomorrow, after every devastation.

We all want to be the architects of our lives and rely on what we create to manifest what we will be. We try very hard to build timeless realities. But knowing how to do things often has precious little to do with what we control in our lives.

I am a state-designated “Historic Architect” and the 25-year property chair of an 1816 church, and I have worked on a number of religious buildings every year for the last 40 years. At countless meetings at these places of worship, I say that every care must be taken in every aspect of building to the glory of God, and people nod their head. But when I say that if these buildings are gone tomorrow, that they are just things, and that God is what lives—not our constructions—it’s disturbing to just about everyone in the room. Like Peter, we want to build tabernacles.

Faith in things has a shelf life. The religious faith that I do have is fully detached from professional dedications: my life is there, whether I think I earned it, made it, deserve it, or not. What we build is just here and now, until it is gone, until we are gone.

Each of our lives ends, but the reality of faith is fully personal. In the creation of who we are, it is often a prosaic checklist of achievements and setbacks. But the centuries-long task of creating a place based on faith is itself a wrestling match between the secular and the sacred. A bit like faith itself.

Beyond historic preservation as a devotion in architecture, the extension of faith in God into the embodiment of a building, especially this one, is daunting and tricky on many levels. We trust that the flying buttresses of career, love, and worth will make all this construction here, now, worth it. But none of it earns any love, no matter how joyous our expression is.

All buildings end. All people end. The unending truth of God in our lives is nothing we can construct. It is already there.

Now, let’s rebuild Notre-Dame.
Andrew Tallon/Vassar College
As the donations pour in to aid the reconstruction efforts of the fire-damaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and the French government opens the question of whether to rebuild the 850-year-old landmark as it was, engineers, architects and contractors can turn to 3D laser scan data of Notre Dame to help with the government’s pledge to reconstruct the building within five years.

“Having laser scans [of Notre Dame] is critical in shortening the reconstruction time frame,” says John Russo, president and CEO of Architectural Resource Consultants and president of the U.S. Institute of Building Documentation. “If you don’t have that data, where do you go? You are going back to hand drawings that may not exist and those are going to be two-dimensional and not have as much information. As far as answering questions and shortcutting the timeline on doing the repair work, 3D scans are going to shave an incredible amount of time off.”

The late Andrew Tallon, an art history professor at Vassar College in upstate New York, worked with colleagues in 2015 finish a laser scan process at Notre Dame. Using a tripod-mounted Leica ScanStation C10 laser, Tallon spent five days mapping Notre Dame. Combining scans with high-resolution panoramic photos, Tallon added color to his data, giving potential project engineers and contractors an even greater amount of information.

The Notre Dame project from Tallon, which saw him reposition the scanner 50 times, created more than one billion points of data — a high-resolution digital blueprint of Notre Dame.

“Laser scanning can measure places and surfaces with tremendous accuracy that you could never hope to get to in person, such as the curvature of a flying buttress,” says Michael Davis, chair of architectural studies, professor of art history at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, and a former colleague of Tallon’s. “I think the laser scanning offers a really useful document of the state of the structure. You can see how it is behaving, if it is out of plumb, if everything is where it should be.

“It creates or documents with great precision the building as it stands.”

Russo says this 3D image of the space contains all the dimensional information on the existing conditions. “You’ve got information on the colors, you’ve got very precise measurements,” he says. "The scans are accurate enough to pick up the slight deviations in the structure, important from an engineering standpoint to understanding what the loads are doing through the structure.”

Tallon once said the scans offered accuracy to within five millimeters.

Russo says that while 3D scanning does require a trained individual to get useful information, “what academics are doing can absolutely be valuable to engineers and contractors.”

While the scans provide much precision, they won’t answer every question when it comes to an ambitious five-year rebuild of Notre Dame. Already the discussion has started on whether the building should be recreated as it was or if it should have a different spire. Also, with so many imperfections within the construction, Russo wonders how close officials wish to adhere to original construction methods. Will officials allow more modern construction techniques to counter imperfections? “There are probably very passionate debates on how that would get done,” Russo says.

“Which Notre Dame are we going to rebuild?” Davis asks. “It is a kind of beautiful Frankenstein of all these different parts, 12th, 13th, 14th and 19th Century parts, so is that the one we are going to restore or is this an opportunity to undo some of the restorations of the 19th Century where we think they got it wrong and rectify errors we have identified? It is a ticklish and complex decision.”

Davis pointed to an example of a rebuild of York Cathedral in England following a 1984 fire where officials had the building reconstructed to previous aesthetics, but with the addition of a fire-suppression system.
Bloomberg via Twitter
Luxury design brands, business tycoons, and tech giants have contributed to an estimated $679 million in donations to the restoration work.

In the hours that have elapsed since the blaze that tore through one of the most visited sites in the world many questions remain. However one fact is clear—France will rebuild her crown jewel that is the Notre Dame Cathedral. After postponing a state address scheduled for last evening, French President Emmanuel Macron arrived to Île de la Cité last night and spoke with reporters vowing, "We will rebuild this cathedral."

According to the latest reports, the cathedral has been deemed structurally sound following the nine-hour-long fire. As many saw on social media, the site's iconic spire collapsed onto the vaulted roof, which now features three large holes but remains somewhat intact. The fate of the priceless artifacts and artwork that resided in the 800-year-old structure are still in question. Relics including the Crown of Thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ and the Tunic of Saint Louis were saved and are currently being housed in Paris' City Hall, while the historic organ seems to have suffered considerable damage according to the French culture minister Franck Riester. Riester reported that though many of the large paintings seem to have survived, there is still the concern of water damage. The fate of the famed Rose windows are also unknown.

As some 50-odd investigators begin their work to determine the cause of the blaze, individuals and organizations around the world are already pledging to donate to the restoration efforts. Apple CEO Tim Cook announced in a Tweet that the tech-giant would donate "to help restore Notre Dame’s precious heritage for future generations." According to an estimate by CNN, some $679 million has already been promised by organizations such as French cosmetics company L'Oreal Paris, luxury design group LVMH, and the Pinault family, which controls luxury goods company Kering. UNESCO officials have also voiced their commitment to the restoration efforts. "We are already in contact with experts and ready to send an emergency mission to assess the damage, preserve what can be preserved and plan short and medium-term measures," said director-general Audrey Azoulay in a press release. To aid this effort, the French Heritage Society has established a fund for donations.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo took to Twitter on Tuesday calling for an international conference of donors to discuss funding for the restoration work.

As is increasingly the case, people from around the world have taken to social media to express their sadness and solidarity with Paris.

BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS
SOME OF THE wood that burned in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris on Monday was put in place in the year 1160. The beams and exterior of the roof over the nave, the long main section of the building, date from between 1220 and 1240. Nearly a millennium ago it was forest; today, after a catastrophe that cuts to the heart of French culture and human history, it’s ash.

“It was one of the oldest—until today—surviving roofs of that kind,” says Robert Bork, an architectural historian at the University of Iowa. “It’s incomparable.”

The fire began Monday evening, around 6:30 pm, in the church’s attic. The building’s familiar towers and flying buttresses loomed over the Ile de la Cité for centuries, prompting the author Victor Hugo to locate Notre Dame not only at the literal center of the city of Paris but also at its historical center, as a symbol. Flames and a column of smoke made it even more striking, and as the flames spread the potential impact of the blaze became more clear. President Emmanuel Macron canceled a speech. Four hundred firefighters mustered. The cathedral’s lead-and-wood spire, built by Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc in 1860 as part of a controversial remodel, caught fire and fell.

By Monday night, the art and treasured objects kept in the cathedral had been saved, it seemed. But architectural historians around the world were emailing each other frantically: If the lower three-quarters of the building resist, if the stone walls stand, it’ll be possible to imagine restoring Notre Dame. “If the fire burns out while the stone vaults are intact, then the repair is a repair,” Bork says. “If the vaults start to crack and fall down, then the building is going to be lost. We’d be talking about rebuilding, not a repair.”

Parisian fire brigades held the line. They kept the fire from spreading into the towers of the western face of the cathedral. The wood—itself an architectural treasure—was lost. “Cathedrals like Chartres had all burned off,” Bork says. “This was quite special, and it was from the time that they were really developing roof techniques.” But the rest of the building seems to have been spared.

As a landmark, Notre Dame lives on in uncountable drawings, paintings, and photographs, not to mention the memories of people who visited, worshipped, and listened to music amid its incomparable acoustics. But because it survived largely intact into the digital era, Notre Dame lives on in the virtual world, too—and that may make its restoration all the more complete. For the last half-decade or so, an architectural historian named Andrew Tallon worked with laser scanners to capture the entirety of the cathedral’s interior and exterior in meticulous 3D point clouds. His billion points of light revealed a living structure; the magnificent flying buttresses had indeed held the walls true, but the Gallery of Kings, statues on the western facade, were a foot out of plumb, Tallon told National Geographic in 2015.

Just as it had in Victor Hugo's day, the entire building had in fact fallen into disrepair by then. In 2017, the problems became too serious to ignore. The New York Times reported on stacks of masonry, fallen or removed, in the gardens. Gargoyles had given way to plastic pipes to drain away rainwater. A remodel was imperative, though as Time reported, it wasn’t clear who would pay for it. This is the renovation project that was underway when the fire started, and architects now hope that Tallon’s scans may provide a map for keeping on track whatever rebuilding will have to take place.

Tallon died late last year, and his mentor, a pioneer in using modern engineering forensics in historic architecture named Robert Mark, died in early 2019. “Both of them loved this building,” Bork says. “I’m just glad they didn’t have to see this.”

As for what happens next, no one seems sure yet. In a statement, Macron insisted the cathedral would be rebuilt. And even if France finds the money to do so, what exactly will that entail? An exact copy, perhaps using Tallon’s scans? Something different? “This has not ever happened before in my lifetime, so I don’t have a paradigm to go to,” Bork says. “Original hand craftsmanship is irreplaceable. When you restore it, it’s not exactly the same thing. You lose information. You can tell sometimes when a stone has been carved by the k
Integrated Studio via Neumann Monson Architects
An inspiring new church in Coralville, Iowa is lifting spirits and bringing people closer to nature — while generating all the energy it needs on site. Iowa City-based firm Neumann Monson Architects designed the church for the Unitarian Universalist Society; the solar-powered building embodies the Society’s core principles with its organic architecture emphasizing sustainability, accessibility and flexibility. The energy-efficient building is currently on track to achieve Zero Energy Building (ZEB) certification from the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).

Located on an existing open clearing so as to minimize the building’s impact on the forest, the Unitarian Universalist Society was built to replace an old structure that had multiple levels and many steps. In contrast, the new building was designed for greater accessibility to create more inclusive spaces, and it radiates an uplifting feel with its high ceilings and sloped roof that culminates into a peak in a far corner. The 133,592-square-foot church includes seven religious classrooms and six offices. It was also designed with input from the congregation’s 300 members.

Designed for net-zero energy, the church is an all-electric building powered with a geothermal heat pump system and solar photovoltaic panels located on the building’s west side. To further reduce the building’s environmental impact, the architects installed bioretention cells for capturing and filtering all stormwater runoff. The landscaping features native grasses and woodland walking trails that engage the surroundings and are complemented with accessible food gardens. Materials from the property’s existing residence — deconstructed by volunteers — were donated to local nonprofits. Visitors also have access to charging stations.

“The Unitarian Universalist Society facility harmonizes with its natural landscape to provide reflective spaces for worship, fellowship, religious education and administration,” the architects explained. “Beyond fully-glazed walls, the forest provides dappled intimacy. The sanctuary’s prow extends south, a stone’s throw from a mature evergreen grove. Services pause respectfully as deer and woodland creatures pass.”


Amy Osborne / Special to The Chronicle
Forget simple words like preservation. What has occurred at the otherwise nondescript corner of 10th and Howard streets in San Francisco is nothing less than a resurrection — one that shows us how today’s cultural forces can alter the past, salvaging old treasures yet using them in ways their founders could not have conceived.

The juxtaposition involves the former St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, a long-closed landmark that has been restored with immaculate precision. The domed cupolas high above Howard Street again shine with gold leaf. Marble floors have been released from vinyl bondage. The immense sanctuary wears a fresh coat of smooth white plaster.

But our Romanesque Revival landmark no longer houses a religious congregation. It’s now an exclusive semi-private club with a theatrical decor that blends the sacred and the profane — complete with toilets where the confessionals once stood and sculpted limestone hounds poised on either side of the raised former altar area.

If the pairing is incongruous, the oddest detail of all may be that St. Joseph’s has survived.

The building was consecrated in 1915, with a design by John Foley intended to evoke the spiritual majesty of European cathedrals. The stucco exterior was formed to look like stone, with an enormous stained glass window between the cupola-topped bell towers. Inside, the barrel-vaulted ceiling tops off at 56 feet. Above and behind the former altar, the ceiling glistens with nearly 100 plaster rosettes painted gold.

The architecture endured amid South of Market’s changes. Thoroughfares like Howard Street attracted car-repair shops and self-storage facilities. Filipino immigrants replaced Irish families in the residential alleyways. By the 1980s, far more people visited the area for late-night clubs than Sunday Mass.

Then came the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, which damaged St. Joseph’s and caused it to be red-tagged. The Diocese of San Francisco used the building for storage, while squatters scavenged any metal of value they could pry loose.

Finally in 2008, Chris Foley purchased St. Joseph’s. He hired Page & Turnbull, an architecture firm that specializes in preservation, to craft a design that would turn back the clock but make room for tech-oriented office space. After the project was approved in 2010, five years passed before federal tax credits were lined up. Palisades Builders joined Foley along the way.
James Wang
Atelier Masomi has converted a former mosque into a library and community centre that sits opposite a new mosque it designed for the rural village of Dandaji, Niger.

Niamey-based Atelier Masomi designed the library within the former mosque, which had fallen into disrepair and was no longer large enough to support the village's growing population, to save it from demolition.

"I knew the mosque was something of a jewel. Both architecturally [and] because I found out that the mason who designed that mosque won an Aga Khan award for architecture for a very similar mosque," said Atelier Masomi founder Mariam Kamara.

"We really wanted to bring it back to where it had been. Essentially the building was melting. It hadn't been maintained in more than 20 years. The facade had completely disappeared," continued Kamara.

The mosque was transformed into a library at the suggestion of members of the community, with the original mason's assistant on the project enlisted to help with restoration of the facade of the old mosque.

All of the facades have been rebuilt, as well as large sections of the roof and an upgrade of the internal structure.

All structural additions to the new library can be removed or reorientated. The bookshelves create dividers for private and group study spaces, and a wood and metal mezzanine floor was added to create extra space. Additional classrooms have been added to allow for community meeting spaces and adult literacy classes.