But first, the badly damaged structure had to be shored up and stabilized, and interdisciplinary teams of scientists, engineers, architects and master craftsmen came together to determine how best to proceed with the restoration. This year-long process – led by chief architects Philippe Villeneuve and Rémi Fromont – is at the center of a new NOVA documentary premiering tonight on PBS. Saving Notre Dame follows various experts as they study the components of the cathedral’s iconic structure to determine how best to repair it.
Director Joby Lubman was among those who were horrified when the fire broke out, staying up much of the night as the cathedral burned, until it became clear that the structure would eventually survive, well. that badly damaged. In the office the next morning, “Everyone was a little shocked to talk about it,” he told Ars. “And that might sound opportunistic, but I thought, ‘Restoring this icon is going to be something to document.’ ”
Lubman and his development team reached out to the proper authorities, and within weeks, they attended meetings with scientists, architects, engineers, and others combining their expertise to restore Notre Dame to its former glory. “It’s the ultimate restoration and a perfect synergy between science and history,” he said.
Although Lubman never felt he and his team were in real danger, filming on location was a challenge due to the strict security protocols in place. No one was allowed to work under the arch, which was cordoned off. And one scene from the documentary depicts an alarm that goes off on the first day of filming because the 550 tons of badly mutilated scaffolding that dominates the restoration site had shifted precariously in the wind.
“We all had to leave the site,” he said, including scientists. “It set the tone for our shoot, which was very unpredictable. It was really, we get what we get [on film] when we go there. “
The original engineers
Notre Dame is an architectural masterpiece, testimony to the collective expertise of centuries of craftsmen. “They were the original engineers, before engineering as a term existed,” Lubman said. “You couldn’t go to school to learn engineering, it was passed down from father to son over many, many generations. It’s rather nice to think that these buildings are the product of thousands of years of experience. I think so much about this knowledge is imprinted in the very materials that were used. Today people can look at the craftsmanship and tool brands and understand exactly how they did it. ”
Among the experts featured in Saving Notre Dame is glass specialist Claudine Loisel, relieved to see that the cathedral’s famous stained-glass windows were intact and not too damaged. There were microcracks in some of the panels due to the thermal shock of the fire, and most of the windows were coated with the toxic lead dust emitted when the lead roof burned down. She devised an effective decontamination plan involving a small precision vacuum, followed by removing any additional residue with cotton balls soaked in distilled water. X-ray spectroscopic analysis helped her determine how many wipes were needed to remove the lead without damaging the paint below.
For this segment, Lubman also took his film crew to York, where conservationists took a new approach to preserving the stained glass windows in York Minster Cathedral. The cathedral caught fire in 1984, shattering the glass in the south transept rose window, though lead held it together, allowing it to be disassembled and painstakingly reassembled. The new approach is to install protective clear glass outer frames before replacing the original stained glass. The gap between them improves ventilation and prevents condensation from building up on the original stained glass, while protecting it from harmful UV rays.