In April of 2019, an electrical fire in the roof of the Notre Dame de Paris, a cathedral that has stood as a national and international landmark for 850 years, sparked a blaze that tore through the ceiling beams and partially collapsed the roof. However much a tragedy, architects are turning lemons into lemonade by using the reconstruction process to determine just how, exactly, the magnificent cathedral was built and stood so solidly for so many centuries.
Quoted in an article on Nature.com, Dr. Yves Gallet, a historian of Gothic architecture at the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne, said the new research project might write a “new page in the history of Notre-Dame”, admitting there are “currently many grey areas”.
The project will involve a massive effort of 100 researchers in 25 laboratories and will last for six years studying: “masonry, wood, metalwork, glass, acoustics, digital data collection, and anthropology”. Studying the mortar between the stones will help the researchers to reveal how different compositions were used for vaulting, walls, and flying buttresses. Furthermore, the lime used to make the mortar came from fossil rich sedimentary limestone that might could reveal where it originated, says Gallet.
And the team of historical forensics detectives led by Dr. Gallet will study the stones at Notre Dame to identify the quarries in which they originated attempting to reconstruct the supply networks and the economy of the site. Another aspect of the project aims to study the structure’s weaknesses to the masonry, which were damaged by the high temperatures of the fire, and a ground-penetrating radar study will help scaffolding builders assess where to erect their poles to dismantle the unstable remnants of the damaged 19th century spire.