Notre Dame's destructive fire left visitors without a place to worship. A pop-up center made of charred timber could offer a temporary fix.

Notre DameCourtesy of Gensler

  • The Notre Dame cathedral in Paris fell victim to a devastating fire in April that destroyed its roof and 19th-century spire.
  • The church is currently being renovated, but it could take another five years before visitors are allowed to enter.
  • In the meantime, global architecture firm Gensler has put forward an idea for a pop-up worship center outside the building.
  • The temporary center would be made of charred timber, a material with fire-resistant properties.
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In April 2019, the roof of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris went up in flames, bringing the entire building to the brink of collapse. Though firefighters managed to salvage the structure, the 19th-century spire that appeared in generations of films, postcards, and paintings was reduced to rubble.

The building is now undergoing extensive renovations, leaving one of the world's most popular worship sites out of commission.

The global architecture firm Gensler aims to fix this problem by creating a pop-up center at the base of the church. The structure would be made of charred timber (a nod to the massive amount of wood that was burned inside the cathedral) and feature translucent panels that give a view of Notre Dame. Take a look.
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The Notre Dame cathedral is the most visited monument in Paris. On April 26, 2019, a fire destroyed its roof and timber spire.

The Notre Dame cathedral is the most visited monument in Paris. On April 26, 2019, a fire destroyed its roof and timber spire.

The cathedral dates back to 1345. It has survived multiple wars, including the French Revolution, where revolutionaries destroyed many of its statues and tore down its original spire.

Read More: Why Notre-Dame Cathedral, a medieval stone church, has burned so quickly

The cathedral is now undergoing a five-year renovation process, which means it's off-limits to worshippers.

The cathedral is now undergoing a five-year renovation process, which means it's off-limits to worshippers.

A New York Times investigation revealed that the cathedral is lucky to be standing. If the flames had burned for much longer, the floors could have caved in and the church bells could have come crashing down, destroying objects in their wake.

In July, the chief architect overseeing the renovation told French media that the cathedral's vaults could still collapse.

The global architecture firm Gensler has unveiled a concept for a pop-up worship center made of charred timber outside the cathedral.

The global architecture firm Gensler has unveiled a concept for a pop-up worship center made of charred timber outside the cathedral.

Shortly after the top of the cathedral was ravaged, the team at Gensler came together to design a temporary space for visitors.

The idea for the project came directly from the firm's London office, according to Gensler co-CEO Diane Hoskins.

"There were poignant feelings of loss, thankfulness that it wasn't lost entirely, and a recognition that there was going to be a period of time where the cathedral could not be occupied," she said.

The design is still in its infancy, but the team has already solicited input from Notre Dame's rector, Bishop Patrick Chauvet, who suggested building the structure out of wood.

Gensler opted for charred timber, a material that's renewable but sturdy. Charred timber also has fire-resistant properties, since the burned outside layer helps protect the wood from getting too hot.

The space can host religious services, but it can also be converted into other uses like cafes or exhibits.

The space can host religious services, but it can also be converted into other uses like cafes or exhibits.

"When you look into the history of cathedrals across Europe, and particularly in Paris, they were first and foremost a place of worship, but also place of gathering," said Duncan Swinhoe, a regional managing principal at Gensler. "That's what the pavilion is really speaking to."

Movable panels along the side of the building allow the center to serve multiple functions.

Read more: The effort to rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral could get help from an unlikely source: A video game

The walls are made of translucent material, so visitors can still peek at Notre Dame.

The walls are made of translucent material, so visitors can still peek at Notre Dame.

Swinhoe said the center is still respectful of ongoing restoration work. Notre Dame's repairs, he said, are being done "in the most appropriate way to make sure there aren't any risks to people outside of the construction."

In the wake of the fire, workers put nets over the ceiling to prevent debris from falling and used robots to clear away rubble.

While the French government briefly entertained the idea of a new design for the cathedral's roof, the French Senate decided in June that Notre Dame should be restored to look exactly the same as it once did.

Once Notre Dame's renovations are complete, the pop-up center could move to another city.

Once Notre Dame's renovations are complete, the pop-up center could move to another city.

For now, Swinhoe said, the center could add a sense of hope to the area surrounding Notre Dame.

"Whether you're a religious person, whether you've even been to Paris, there is a significance of this place on the world stage," he said. "That was one of the things that really impacted us — how a building can have such symbolic power."

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