President Macron has pledged to rebuild Notre-Dame stone for stone in just five years and make it “even better than before”. His prime minister Edouard Philippe has recently announced an international architecture competition to rebuild the spire. French billionaires have valiantly entered into a philanthropic bidding war to become le grandest fromage to sponsor the re-bolstering of Our Lady of Paris, raising €800m.
Apple is one of the global corporations that’s publicly pledged to help, and the US has managed to find some spare change down the back of the sofa, even though Puerto Rico spent 11 months without power and Flint still has no clean water.
Never mind that Notre-Dame cathedral had begged for a paltry €150 million to shore up its rotting stone and repair the ravages wrought by acid rain, the money has now arrived. All it took was a little live-streamed iconoclasm – a relic-stuffed spire toppling into a raging inferno – to get the charitable impulses flowing.
While academics and historians argue over which version of Notre Dame is more authentic, I’m sure the 1 per cent might have some pointers on more profit-orientated options for a site.
Given the impressive track record that those with accumulated wealth have when it comes to public space, we can make a few educated guesses about the future direction that Notre-Dame could take to capitalise on this prime plot of Paris property.
1. A luxury concept shop
Bricks and mortar shops are having a hard time up against Jeff Bezos and his warehouses of wrist band-tagged workers. You need to offer a whole lot of Instagram experience to pry would-be buyers off their sofas and away from their Amazon Prime accounts. L’Oreal, LVMH and Dior, whose owner-families have all donated to the Notre Dame fund, would know.
Luxe brands are resorting to salesperson sorcery in the pivot from bricks-to-clicks; a concept store amidst the ruins of the scorched stones would mark the natural evolution of influencer culture meets disaster porn.
2. Or just an Apple store
Apple is bucking the trend of hight street misery. Its gleaming glass churches, filled with Genius Bar acolytes, continue to attract devoted throngs.
If the Catholic Church is worried about losing its flock, why not embrace the enrapturing effect of new technology? An iPhone in the hand is worth two in the burning bush, as they say. Charging ports on pews could come in handy during long services or tourist queues to see the restored relics.
Besides, now that activists in Australia have mobilised to have Melbourne’s Federation Square nominated as a heritage site, there’s a cancelled Foster and Partners-designed Apple Store going spare.
3. Hudson Yards 2.0
Is there a single rich person’s playground that cannot be improved by a retractable roof and a stairway to nowhere™ with some dogdy data ownership laws?
In fact, New York City’s The Shed and The Vessel, architectural equivalents of white elephants, might be better suited to the banks of the Seine.
Kinetic architecture could peel back to reveal the stage set for open-air choral concerts on balmy evenings. The replacement spire might even be improved were it covered in mirrored panels, incorporating a plethora of new vantage points.
4. Something Brulalist
Yes, this is an 850-year-old gothic masterpiece that has withstood wars, rebellion, and now the President of the Free World’s inane suggestion to waterbomb a flaming hot stone structure.
True, the survival of Notre-Dame’s most precious relics including the 13th century radiating rose glass windows is largely due to mastel stonemasons. They designed soaring vaults that tugged at heart strings while acting as an ingenious two-way fire break between the roof and the main building.
But really, we all know dastardly modern architects are just itching to turn everything in a morass of concrete. Let them do something weird and modern with those flying buttresses and revel their true villainy.
5. A sculpture park
Just put a piece of public art there and write some marketing copy about community, yeah?