Notre Dame Cathedral on the Seine River in Paris, France after the fire on April 15, 2019.

12 Aug

Gensler unveils light-filled design for temporary Pavillon Notre-Dame

Designs for a temporary place of worship have just been released by Gensler, a London-based international architecture and design firm. We take a look at the bright and airy design for the Pavillon Notre-Dame, and explore the emotional implications it might have on the people of Paris…

On the 15th of April 2019, thick grey smoke rising from the top of Notre-Dame Cathedral could be seen all across the city of Paris as the iconic medieval building burned. Stunned crowds stood on the banks of the Seine, watching in horror as the flames engulfed the tall spire at the back of the cathedral, which was a 19th-century recreation of the original medieval spire.

Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, France

Within minutes, the city had come to a standstill to watch the sad events unravel, with commuters emerging from the Metro to see the fire with their own eyes on hearing the news. Among the confused tourists and peals of sirens, one thing was clear; the Parisians were devastated. Many wept or prayed in the streets, feeling like the ancient building embodied the very soul of their city.

Paris France April 16, 2019 View of a journalist interviewing Parisians about the Notre Dame cathedral which burned the day before in a big fire

A church, a monument, and an icon…

Parts of the French Gothic cathedral have stood strong for over 1,000 years, symbolising the history and heritage of one of the most famous cities in the world, enduring revolutions, wars, and plagues. Three months after the tragedy, the ruins of the cathedral are still very much a permanent reminder of the sorrow and shock that people felt in April. 

“Great buildings, like great mountains, are the work of centuries”

– Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

The three rose windows, rib vaults, flying buttresses, and symmetrical front towers combine in a blend of architectural shapes and proportions, making the Notre-Dame Cathedral a key example of astounding medieval innovation. Before the fire, approximately 12 million people were visiting the cathedral each year, either for their own spiritual journeys or to appreciate the priceless art and historical features. 

PARIS, FRANCE - February 15, 2018 : Interior of the Notre Dame de Paris. France

Moving forward after grief…

The Notre-Dame Cathedral illustrates the incredible impact that a building can have on the emotions, culture, and income of a city, so it was unsurprising when plans were announced to rebuild it in time for the Olympics in 2024. Days after the fire, France invited architects from around the world to submit their designs for a replacement spire in an open contest. A fascinating array of architectural designs flooded in, including a glass roof and urban rooftop produce garden. Finally, it was decided that the cathedral should be rebuilt as a replica of the old roof, honouring the original design that has been appreciated and wondered at for generations.  

Clean-up operations are still ongoing and renovation plans are still being finalised, but meanwhile, designs for a temporary place of worship have just been released by Gensler, an international architecture and design firm. The Pavillon Notre-Dame will be located in the cathedral’s iconic Parvis Square and will offer Parisians and international visitors alike a place to visit, reflect, and prey whilst the cathedral is being restored.

“It is important that the design is true to, but doesn’t upstage, the cathedral,” explains Duncan. “We wanted to strike a balance between a structure that invites the community, yet can be transformed to become a reflective and spiritual haven when mass is celebrated. We hope this offers the people of Paris, and the world, a statement of hope and rebirth.”

Designs for the temporary structure…

Gensler’s design is a simple yet emblematic structure that will be constructed primarily out of charred timber, which will give the structure added strength and durability. “Charred timber, which is one of the oldest and most effective methods of protecting the wood from fire, also symbolises that what once destroyed Notre-Dame will only serve to make it stronger, thus expressing a language of rebirth and transformation,” says Duncan Swinhoe, Regional Managing Principal at Gensler.

It’s Gensler’s sensitivity to the city’s emotions around the cathedral that makes this design so unique. The Pavillon is not trying to compete or draw attention away from Notre-Dame, with its distinct appearance of a temporary structure. Its simplicity tells the world that it’s only there for a short time because every effort is being made to bring the heart of the city back to its former glory. 

Functioning as a sheltered nave, the structure is still reminiscent of the structural rhythms and forms of the Gothic cathedral, paying homage to the building that should still be with us. The roof would be made from Ethylene Tetra Fluoro Ethylene (EFTEC) cushions, which is a lightweight plastic membrane, and the walls from translucent polycarbonate panels. This ensures that the temporary structure will be flooded with plenty of natural light, which will change throughout the day. 

Replicated to the same dimensions as Notre-Dame to ensure familiarity, the temporary space has been designed to serve a multitude of functions, from religious services to exhibitions and markets to performance.

Behind the altar, movable panels will be installed that will allow for a full view of Notre-Dame. Gensler’s design also includes rotating panels at ground level that can be positioned to open or close the edge of the structure to mirror the configuration of the cathedral for mass services.

Gensler has been careful to pay homage to Notre-Dame by creating a humble space which provides a critical hub for the community to gather while the cathedral is being restored.


Restoration work at the Notre-Dame Cathedral is now underway, with 130 specialists removing valuable pieces of art and making the internal structures safe. You can follow their progress by following @notredameparis on Twitter.