Exploring and Designing the Future of Notre-Dame Cathedral

On the evening of April 15th, 2019 the world held its breath as Notre-Dame Cathedral was engulfed in flames. What would happen next?

Exploring and Designing the Future of Notre-Dame Cathedral
Credit: Zeyu Cai & Sibei Li, Niklas Brockmann-Smith, Rogerio Carvalheiro, Kotaro Horiuchi, Frank Liu, Kaumudi Indranil more

Interview with Josh Sanabria, CEO of GoArchitect.

On the evening of April 15th, 2019 the world held its breath as Notre-Dame Cathedral was engulfed in flames. A few hours later the centuries-old cathedral had lost its entire roof, spire, and was severely damaged. Thankfully it was not completely destroyed and many priceless artifacts were saved.

As I thought about what happened, it was easy to recognize that Notre-Dame Cathedral was more than a building. It was a symbol, witness to history, and an important global monument. You didn't have to be French or Catholic to understand that this building was more than columns and stained-glass windows.

This situation also presented a unique question, "Where do we go from here?" Do we rebuild the structure exactly as it was or do we search for a new representation of its shared meaning? If the latter, what will this representation look like, feel like, and act like?

The People's Notre-Dame Design Competition

Very soon after the fire, I helped DesignClass host an international design competition to explore the potential future of Notre-Dame Cathedral. Designers were challenged to integrate design, engineering, and culture into their solutions.

We made the competition free to enter with a $1,000 grand prize. The idea was that Notre-Dame was a cathedral for the people and its future should be influenced by the people.

Over the span of 3 months, the competition brought in over 200 design submissions from around the globe. I'll start by saying that the submissions ran the gambit from interesting, thought-provoking, to even wacky.

Credit: Ron Baird & Silvano Tardella, Dr. Nguyen, Tim Kobe, Maksimova Ekaterina, The Parametric Code, Marcello Bonon

Even with the wackier designs, the gold in the experience was that people from around the world felt inspired to take up the challenge and find a new story to tell.

Now, nearly 5 years later, we can reminisce about what we learned from this experience.

We knew that it was extremely likely that Notre-Dame Cathedral would be returned to its original state. The French Government agreed. While some people may have been dismayed by that outcome, I believe it was the correct decision.

This competition taught us that any new interpretation would inevitable bear the handprint of contemporary aesthetics and ideology.

I believe that Notre-Dame Cathedral was beautiful and important because of the shared feeling that it transcended contemporary life. A reinterpretation would alter that forever.

This didn't mean we couldn't have some fun in the meantime. By the end, 226 designers from 56 countries participated. The winning proposal was chosen by the public with over 30,000 people voting. Many people looked past the "practical" options and celebrated the story-telling possibilities.

Zeyu Cai and Sibei Li Win The Peoples Notre-Dame Design Competition
GoArchitect has announced Zeyu Cai and Sibei Li have won The Peoples Notre-Dame Cathedral Design Competition.

This experience with community engagement encouraged me and my team to always seek the voices of others. Since 2019, we've hosted many design competitions, run online educational programs, and ultimately created Engage.

A New Tool for Community Engagement

Engage is a powerful tool that has its roots in years of exploring how people from around the world enjoy providing feedback.

Big surprise here, "People like to give feedback visually."

One of the most popular and easily understood ways is through sticky notes. The simple action of placing a sticky note gives the participant agency and straightforward satisfaction. The challenge is that it's difficult to do sticky note activities or surveys with large groups or online. No more.

Engage your Community
Engage makes it easy for designers & planners to gather important insights from stakeholders.

Engage is an easy way for everyone to gather important insights using fun & approachable sticky note surveys. It bridges the gap between digital & in-person engagement by digitizing a familiar format but making it powerful and infinitely scalable.

Engage is the culmination of 5 years of rallying the online design community and exploring fun & impactful ideas. It's a story that found its roots in The People's Notre-Dame Design Competition and continues today.

In the spirit of celebrating Notre-Dame and it's soon complete restoration, let us know what Notre-Dame Cathedral means to you.

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