Surroundings of Notre-Dame: the CNPA wants to keep the gates

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Please consider signing the petition, if you have not already done so.

The CNPA (Commission nationale de l’architecture et du patrimoine) met this morning to address the issue of the Notre-Dame area. The problem with this type of commission is that they are made up of multiple personalities and that this necessarily implies concessions that are not always satisfactory. On the whole, however, their four reservations and the wish they expressed, which will be recorded in the minutes, are rather positive. Let us also remember that the opinion of the CNPA is only consultative, even if it is most of the time followed by the Ministry of Culture, and that it is only one of the many stages that this project will have to go through, and that it will certainly have to undergo appeals from associations if it persists in some of its bad choices.

1. View of the Squares de l’Île-de-France and Jean XXIII in the current project
© Bureau Bas Smets
See the image in its page

Emmanuel Grégoire, first deputy mayor of Paris, was present to defend the project, as he has announced everywhere, and he was true to himself: very open and sympathetic in appearance, wanting to reassure by promising many things. Promises, as we know, are only binding on those who believe them, and even if some members of the commission did not believe them, they had no way - diplomatically - of questioning his word, even if the joke "lier like a bench puller" was widely circulated [1]. Bas Smets was also present. He came across as a very good listener and without arrogance, which is a good thing. What struck several members of the commission was that although he is a landscaper, he is in no way an architect or an urban planner, even though this is largely a question of urban planning. Finally, it is clear that he did not initiate the removal of the gates: it was a request from the Paris City Council, which openly and shamelessly overruled the opinion of the citizens it had consulted.

The Commission therefore gave a "positive" opinion, but with four major reservations that safeguard the essential, at least for Square Jean XXIII, which are as follows

 the first - and most important - is this: the fence of Square Jean XXIII must be preserved. The only arrangement that the commission allows would be to authorise, if they so wish, a shift to the east, on the side facing the Quai de l’Archevêché, in order to include in the garden the part where the parking spaces are located,
 the second is the refusal of the building planned for the gardeners to the south of the chevet; it should be rebuilt (but less ugly) in the place where it already stands, on the Rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame side,
 the third is to preserve as much of the old furniture as possible, including the non-Davioud benches we mentioned in this article; as Emmanuel Grégoire keeps repeating that all these benches will come back (remember that at least one part was broken with a sledgehammer), we are asked to believe him,
 the fourth, which is not very restrictive, is to study the flow of visitors, to test them, and to check that they do not risk damaging the site and that they will allow a visit in good conditions (it is not clear how this will be done).

Furthermore, the tamarisk tree would be preserved: this time, the promise came from Bas Smets. We will obviously be vigilant on this point.

On the other hand, the commission has accepted that Georges-Henri Pingusson’s fence in the Square de l’Île-de-France be moved to the east as planned in the project, which the petitioners refuse. Furthermore, the future of the lawns, which the project redesigns by transforming them into pure rectangles without grace, which will be deprived of flowers and shrubs, and which will be trampled by visitors, was not discussed for lack of time [2]. This is a real problem, especially for the beauty of the garden and for biodiversity.

2. The "water blade" on the forecourt
© Bureau Bas Smets
See the image in its page

The parvis was discussed during which Emmanuel Grégoire promised, against the evidence and the documents, that there would be no commercial activity or café, claiming that only bottles of water would be distributed to visitors! Of course, here again no one really believed him, even though at least the CMN (Centre des Monuments Nationaux) and the diocese had each asked for a shop and a café was planned, overlooking the quay. The piercing of the quay was accepted with some arrangements to make it less unsightly.
The markings of the old quarter on the forecourt were not retained, and the trees planted in Rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame, which should partially mask the north side of the forecourt, were maintained. The fact remains that their viability is unlikely given the underground networks that exist at this location, which is situated to the north.
The sheet of water that is supposed to "refresh the space", which we read in the file will "produce ephemeral reflections, which visitors will try to capture" and that "this magnificent moment will create an extraordinary experience in front of the cathedral" (please do not laugh), was met with a lot of scepticism, with participants pointing out that this type of arrangement never works for long (think, for example, of the "water mirror" in the Place de la République or the fountain in the Place de Catalogne [3]...).

3. The entrance to the "vestibule".
© Bureau Bas Smets
See the image in its page

Still on the square, if the entrance to the crypt moved to the "vestibule" and the filling in of the access hoppers with open ground allowing trees to be planted there was considered favourably, the closure at night by a gate at the bottom of the two staircases, which could very quickly become open-air latrines, was of concern to the members of the commission.
Finally, they stressed that the reflection on the forecourt could not avoid the eventual installation - which is fortunately becoming more and more likely - of a Musée de l’Œuvre in the Hôtel-Dieu. They therefore expressed the wish that this museum be created, adding that it should be located on the parvis side if possible, in order to be as close as possible to the cathedral and ensure continuity with the archaeological crypt.

Far from having been validated as is, even if many points remain problematic, the commission therefore decided that the project should evolve in the direction recommended by the petitioners. The battle is far from over. In fact, it has only just begun. The ball is now in the court of the Ministry of Culture, the architect of the Buildings of France and the Paris City Council. It is important to continue to sign the petition, in particular to save the lawns, to bring back the flower beds and shrubs, to see the stone or concrete benches disappear and to ensure that the gardens remain gated and closed at night.

Didier Rykner


[1This untranslatable pun needs to be explained. In French, it is said: "mentir comme un arracheur de dents" (equivalent to "lying through his teeth"), which means that a "arracheur de dents" lies to his patient by telling him that he will not hurt him. The joke here is that Emmanuel Grégoire, who - to put it mildly - does not hesitate to spread fake news, "lies like a teeth puller". The pun is on "dent" and "banc" whose pronunciation, apart from the first letter, is the same

[2The presentation of the project lasted two hours, between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., the intervention of the Ministry of Culture lasted another half hour, and so the discussion behind closed doors only took place for an hour and a half, which is very little.

[3Both of which quickly ceased to function.


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