The iconic spire collapses as smoke and flames engulf the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019.
Enlarge / The enduring spire collapses as smoke and flames engulf the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019.

Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP through Getty Pictures

On April 15, 2019, the world watched in horror because the roof of the famed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris caught hearth. The blaze unfold quickly, and for a number of nail-biting hours, it appeared this 850-year-old Gothic masterpiece is perhaps destroyed totally. Firefighters lastly gained the higher hand within the wee hours of the next morning. Nearly instantly after the hearth had been extinguished, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild Notre Dame.

However first, the badly broken construction needed to be shored up and stabilized, and interdisciplinary groups of scientists, engineers, architects, and grasp craftspeople assembled to find out the easiest way to proceed with the restoration. That year-long course of—headed up by Chief Architects Philippe Villeneuve and Remi Fromont— is the main target of a brand new NOVA documentary premiering tonight on PBS. Saving Notre Dame follows varied consultants as they examine the elements of the cathedral’s iconic construction to puzzle out how finest to restore it.

Director Joby Lubman was amongst these transfixed in horror when the hearth broke out, staying up a lot of the evening because the cathedral burned, till it grew to become clear that the construction would in the end survive, albeit badly broken. Within the workplace the following morning, “Everybody was a bit shell-shocked speaking about it,” he informed Ars. “And it’d sound opportunistic, however I assumed, ‘The restoration of this icon goes to be fairly one thing to doc.'”

Lubman and his growth crew reached out to the suitable authorities, and inside a couple of weeks they have been sitting in on conferences with scientists, architects, engineers, and others combining their experience to revive Notre Dame to its former glory. “It is the final word restoration, and an ideal synergy between science and historical past,” he mentioned.

Whereas Lubman by no means felt he and his crew have been in any actual hazard, filming on-site was a problem due to the strict security protocols in place. No one was allowed to work below the vaulting, which was cordoned off. And one scene within the documentary depicts an alarm going off on the very first day of filming as a result of the 550 tons of badly mangled scaffolding towering over the restoration website had shifted precariously within the wind.

“All of us needed to go away the location,” he mentioned, scientists included. “That set the tone for our filming, which was extremely unpredictable. It was very a lot, we get what we get [on film] once we go on website.”

The unique engineers

Notre Dame is an architectural masterpiece, a testomony to the collective experience of centuries of craftspeople. “They have been the unique engineers, earlier than engineering as a time period existed,” mentioned Lubman. “You could not go to high school to study engineering, it was handed down from father to son over many, many generations. It’s relatively pretty to suppose that these buildings are the product of hundreds of years of expertise. I believe a lot of that information is imprinted within the supplies themselves which have been used. Folks as we speak can take a look at the craftsmanship and on the software marks, and perceive precisely how they did it.”

Among the many consultants featured in Saving Notre Dame is glass scientist Claudine Loisel, who was relieved to search out that the cathedral’s famed stained glass home windows have been intact and never too badly broken. There have been microcracks in some panels from the thermal shock of the hearth, and most home windows have been coated with the poisonous lead mud that was emitted when the lead roof burned. She discovered an efficient decontamination plan involving a tiny precision vacuum cleaner, adopted by removing of any additional residue with cotton balls soaked in distilled water. X-ray spectroscopy evaluation helped her decide simply what number of wipes have been wanted to take away the lead with out damaging the paint beneath.

For that section, Lubman additionally took his movie crew to York, the place conservationists have adopted a brand new preservation method to the stained glass home windows of York Minster Cathedral. The cathedral caught hearth in 1984, shattering the glass of the South Transept rose window, though the lead held it collectively, permitting it to be taken down and painstakingly reassembled. The brand new method includes putting in protecting clear glass exterior frames earlier than changing the unique stained glass home windows. The hole between them improves air flow and prevents condensation from increase on the unique stained glass, in addition to defending it from damaging UV rays.

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