The egos are landing—on the proposed new roof of Notre-Dame—and few are bigger than those of British architects, who have done so much to make the City of London look like an overcrowded Dubai in the drizzle.
Norman Foster, creator of the bulbous London skyscraper known without affection by Londoners as the Gherkin, and designer of a new tower that resembles a Brobdingnagian spring onion stuck upside down in the ground, has said that the spire of Notre-Dame should be “a work of art about light.” This papalistic pronouncement is typical of architectural newspeak that permits architects to do what they please, irrespective of context. A church spire is, or ought to be, a monument to the glory of God, not to that of an architect, and rebuilding Notre-Dame should not be taken as an opportunity to show off.
Ian Ritchie, creator of the Spire in Dublin—one of the most vacuous large monuments in the world—said that the Notre-Dame spire should be “a refracting, super-slender reflecting crystal to heaven,” a glass version of his Dublin monument, in fact. If French president Emmanuel Macron had any sense, he would forbid any modernist British architect from coming within a radius of 100 miles of Notre-Dame—not that French modernist architects are any better, of course.
Meantime, an ideological battle is raging over the huge donations that France’s richest men have made to the rebuilding of the cathedral. Gratitude has given way to acrimony. Why have the donors suddenly turned so generous, after purportedly ignoring the economic plight of millions of their countrymen? Their excess wealth clearly should have been taxed at a higher rate, so that they would not have had all this money lying around, waiting for an opportunity to aggrandize its possessors. The tax receipts could have been helping the needy all along.
Let us turn the clock back a few centuries, to the time of Maurice de Sully, the twelfth-century Bishop of Paris, who is credited with the founding of Notre-Dame in its present form. Surely there were better things to do with the money and effort expended on raising it? The poor of Paris in those days were even worse off than the poor today. They had no indoor plumbing, let alone mobile telephones, and not even a baseball cap to put on backward or sideways. No McDonalds for them; and their clothes, or rather rags, were infected with vermin that spread horrible diseases. Nor was there any SAMU (Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente) for them to call when they contracted those diseases—and anyway, the health care of that time was useless.
You can just imagine how expensive the construction of Notre-Dame was relative to the GDP of that era, when so many urgent social problems needed attention: and yet Maurice de Sully chose to erect a footling monument! There can be only one reasonable response to this outrageous architectural manifestation of social injustice, medieval superstition, and sumptuary expenditure: total demolition.
This is a task that Lord Foster and his cohort could perform very well.