Notre Dame Cathedral – A Tragic Fire

Yesterday was April 15th, a Monday, and the day that the world-wide beloved Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire and suffered heartwrenching damage. I found about the fire from one of my co-workers shortly after the fire began and I ended up streaming live coverage on my computer and watching in horror as the building was ravaged with fire. I don’t really know how to put this into words but my heart is breaking for the City of Paris and for architects all over the world who studied this magnificent building.

Notre Dame Cathedral night view from the Seine 02 June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

I am lucky enough to have visited Notre Dame Cathedral twice in my life. The first time was in the fall of 1990 when I was studying architecture abroad and we spent a week in Paris. To me, at that time in my life, the building was distilled down into the sort of data that an architecture student would need to know. My time there as a student was somewhat clinical and obligatory if I’m being honest and I don’t have any specific lasting memories from that trip.

I am grateful that my wife and I visited Paris on holiday back in 2010 and we brought our then almost 6-year-old daughter with us. I have written many posts about this specific trip and how having a few more years under my belt and having my family with me, and in particular my daughter Kate, fundamentally changed how I experienced, Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral, and countless other buildings. (A particularly good post where I explain just how profound having my young daughter with me for this transformation that I think is highly worth your time isThrough the Eyes of a Child“)

All of the pictures in today’s post are from that 2010 trip – I thought I would share them today as I am feeling saddened about the great loss we have all experienced. These photos are not particularly good as this was the first real DLR camera I had ever bought and decided this was the trip where I would learn how to use it. If you click on any of the images, it will open up much larger in a new window which will allow you to zoom in a see a lot more detail if you are so inclined.

Notre Dame Cathedral exterior 01 June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

Notre Dame Cathedral exterior 06 June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

Notre Dame Cathedral flying buttress detail June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

Notre Dame Cathedral night view from the Seine River June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

Notre Dame Cathedral exterior 09 June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

In this photograph, you can easily see some of the erosion taking place to the stonework.

Notre Dame Cathedral exterior 07 June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

Notre Dame Cathedral main spire detail June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

Here is a pretty good look at the central spire that was shown burning and then collapsing into the cathedral – a rather magnificent piece of craftsmanship.

Notre Dame Cathedral exterior 08 June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

Notre Dame Cathedral exterior 05 June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

Notre Dame Cathedral rose window detail June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

Notre Dame Cathedral Interior 01 June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

I do have a handful of interior images that I collected from this trip – most of which were taken in my attempt to capture the absolutely majestic interior space.

Notre Dame Cathedral ceiling June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

A look at the rib vaults of the nave ceiling. These are the structural elements that transferred the structural load to the flying buttresses ringing the perimeter.

Notre Dame Cathedral Interior 02 June 2010 photo by Bob Borson

Michelle and Kate at Notre Dame Cathedral June 2010

I know what you’re thinking: “Hey Bob, this isn’t Notre Dame Cathedral, it looks like your wife and daughter!” and you would be correct. As a proper architect, I don’t want people messing up my photographs so I don’t generally take the sort of photo where an individual stands in front of some monument, back turned towards said monument, and a photo is taken as if to prove that you did, in fact, go to that monument. But as it turns out, I do have a picture of my family just outside the cathedral just after we had taken our time exploring, and I would say that both look no worse for the experience. My wife Michelle actually looks downright jubilant!

… I don’t know what Kate is doing but she sure was cute.

Michelle Borson and Kate Borson inside Notre Dame June 2010

Part of the fun of bringing a child to these sorts of places is the opportunity you are afforded to explain where you are and what is actually happening. Keeping them entertained and engaged so that the grownups and spend the time they would like to spend in this sort of space requires a bit of effort and imagination. I remember telling Kate that Notre Dame Cathedral took almost 200 years to build and how generations of families work on this single building. In the image above, Michelle is explaining the purpose of the candles and why people would pay money and say a prayer as they lit them.

Kate Borson in Paris June 2010

I decided to end my photo tour with a picture of my daughter from this trip. Other than being absolutely adorable here, my memories from my time spent at Notre Dame Cathedral are indelibly linked to my daughter and our experience together within this space. This is one of the reasons that I am feeling so saddened by the fire that took place yesterday and why as sad as I feel for myself, I am even more despondent for the citizens of Paris. I know that French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild and I have no doubt that Parisians will bring a fortitude of spirit to that challenge, but for how long will we go without this beloved building and the moments that so many have experienced within its walls?

I am reminded of a poem that I read just the other day and I thought I would share a part of it here with you today.

Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek a kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow’s share?
Can a Father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?

Can a Mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

Excerpt from “On Another’s Sorrow” from ‘Songs of Innocence’ written in 1789 by English poet William Blake

It was not that long ago, June 2018, when one of my other favorite buildings, the Glasgow School of Art by Charles Rennie Mackintosh was badly damaged in a fire. And now it’s the Notre Dame de Paris that has been badly damaged. I am lucky in that I have been able to visit both buildings in my lifetime and created memories that go beyond just the reasons why these buildings are important to us as architects. I am so saddened by the damage to Notre Dame Cathedral that I simply don’t really know how to process what has happened, and I doubt that I am alone in this feeling.

Thank you for letting me share my photos on what was definitely a “life” day here on Life of an Architect.


Bob signature FAIA

Source: Life of an Architect