Of all the proposals to rebuild the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris since last month’s devastating fire, few have garnered as much attention—or controversy—as Russian architect Alexander Nerovnya’s idea to replace it with a transparent glass roof in the shape of a diamond. The idea, which the architect announced on Instagram, has sparked a vigorous debate on the nature of restoration and the role that architecture plays as society and technology evolves. (In my own personal Instagram poll of my design colleagues, 74 percent voted against Nerovnya’s proposal, but the 26 percent who voted yes included Siweb’s Editor-in-Chief Whitney Robinson). It also harked back to an earlier debate over I.M. Pei’s 71-foot-tall glass-and-metal pyramid in front of the Louvre—derided by many critics in the early 1980s, it became an iconic feature of the Paris cityscape.
I tracked down Nerovnya to get his take on the future of his proposal and the digital brouhaha it elicited. “I think the comments I received show that there is a keen interest in the restoration of Notre Dame not just among Parisians but around the world,” says the architect, who is also a historian and lecturer at the Moscow Architectural Institute. “A lot of people felt our suggestion was too bold and their criticism is important to us. But architecture as part of art can't be conservative. All of the greatest masterpieces once violated rules and broke historical tradition. I believe Notre-Dame deserves the same. Can we dare to challenge history?”
On Instagram, Nerovnya explained the thinking behind his proposal to his 112K followers. “We know the cathedral was built from the 12th to the 14th centuries, but we also know that some changes to the design were made in the 13th, 14th, 18th and 19th centuries,” he says. “Things change. Notre-Dame will never be the same, no matter how well it’s repaired. So why don’t we use all our knowledge and architectural achievement to make it better?”
He told Siweb that the glass roof would be designed using the latest state-of-the-art green technology. Despite the global attention he has received, he has yet to hear back on his proposal from Notre-Dame, the city of Paris or French president Emmanuel Macron, who has pledged to restore the cathedral within five years. “For sure it's up to Parisians to decide,” Nerovnya says. “The fire might become either a new chapter in its life or a bad memory. It happened and I think we should move on. It is a chance for our generation to leave a mark in the history of the cathedral. And I would be glad to cooperate.”