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The Challenges Ahead For Restoration Efforts At Notre Dame Cathedral In Paris


We're going to talk now about a past restoration project; one that might shed some light on the road ahead for Notre Dame. On the morning of November 20, 1992, a fire broke out in the chapel of Windsor Castle.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: A major fire swept through Windsor Castle in suburban London.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: One hundred-fifty firemen have been battling the blaze.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Their task was made all the more urgent by the need to protect priceless works of arts and armor.

CORNISH: That fire burned for 15 hours and caused serious damage. Conservation architect Francis Maude worked on the restoration. He joins us now from London.

Welcome to the program.

FRANCIS MAUDE: Good evening.

CORNISH: So let's talk about the scale of damage to Windsor Castle. What happened with that fire? How much damage did cause?

MAUDE: It caused a lot of damage. We saw at that time that it started in the private chapel part of the castle, and then it extended through a suite of drawing rooms, the state dining room. There was also a couple of other large public use rooms. And in particular, there was the great St. George's Hall, which is where most of the state banquets take place.

CORNISH: How did architects approach this restoration project? I mean, it must have been daunting given the fire damage.

MAUDE: Everyone's always very upset by a fire, of course. And it's easy to see why. What you soon find, of course, once you're able to look at what remains is that there's then a way forward from that towards regaining a lot of what has been lost and, perhaps, also bringing forward some things which had been concealed under later alterations to the building.

We were able to unpick some of the later alterations, which had been done to the medieval part of the castle, and actually make the building operate, perhaps, rather better than before as well as also uncovering a lot of the medieval roof timbers for the great kitchen. So to that extent, there were things to be found, to be discovered as a result of the destructive process of the fire.

CORNISH: People have been looking at Notre Dame and looking at the aspects of the building that were preserved. How significant is that when one is taking on a restoration project? How much does that help?

MAUDE: There's always a process of analysis at the beginning of a project like this. What people we want now to do is to stabilize the standing remains that there are of Notre Dame. And then having stabilized it, you can then move in and do, from a safe vantage point, a thorough investigation of the debris which has fallen from the roof and from elsewhere. And within that, you may well find the quite large chunks of material, which can be incorporated into the rebuilt cathedral.

And this is a process that takes quite a while to do. And there's also a need for a structural analysis of the walls themselves because the limestone can be badly affected by high temperatures in fires. So we then build up a full picture of what can be saved as it stands and where there's the opportunity to build new elements to make the cathedral whole once more.

CORNISH: French President Emmanuel Macron says the renovation will get done in five years. Does that seem feasible?

MAUDE: Windsor Castle was restored in exactly that timeframe. The day from the fire to the celebration of the reopening of the restored castle was a span of five years. I know people are feeling more positive than they did yesterday because more of the cathedral seems to have survived than seemed possible at the time. And it's a good starting point to think that five years is a reasonable timeframe for the project.

CORNISH: Architect Francis Maude - he's a director at Donald Insall Associates in London.

Thank you for speaking with us.

MAUDE: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.