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"Our inspiration was not only architectural, but also spiritual," say Jennifer Cole & Michael J. Snyder

Read how an unlikely collaboration between Jennifer Cole, AIA and Michael J. Snyder, AIA produced stunning results.

Jennifer Cole, AIA and Michael J. Snyder, AIA

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Our collaboration was very unlikely, because we’ve never worked together previously. We are both from Pennsylvania and graduated together from Penn State University in 2000. During school, we studied abroad together for a semester in Rome. Jennifer visited Notre Dame on that trip, and the experience of being immersed in the culture, history and craft of the cathedral was awe inspiring. Since college, Jennifer has been an associate at several firms in Cleveland, Ohio and in San Diego, California. Currently, she is an architect with HED in the San Diego office. Michael has worked in several firms in Washington DC and Pennsylvania, and is currently a senior architect and vice president with Gannett Fleming Architects in State College, Pennsylvania.

What inspired you to enter the Notre-Dame design competition?

The day of the fire, we were physically ill over the feeling of devastation and loss for the world. Buildings are not permanent. Though, the preservation of world heritage sites, their legacy and beauty are of great importance for the lessons we can still learn. Jennifer’s initial reaction was for a full restoration effort. After the French President stated a new spire would be “more beautiful than before” and presented the idea of a design competition, Michael reached out to our group of college friends to see if anyone would be interested in pursuing the competition.  As Jennifer was contemplating the crazy global scale of the competition, the unlikely partnership of never working together, the difficulties of a cross-country collaboration, work and family life, a strong stream of ideas came that developed into the concept we shared for the competition. Working together was a wonderful collaborative experience, and amazing considering we worked mainly via email with only a few brief phone calls. We hadn’t talked much in years and we were both surprised by the other’s insights and skills.
Our inspiration for joining the competition was not only architectural, but also spiritual. We are both Christians and felt a strong sense of connection to the church as part of the body of Christ in the world. Our hearts were at first saddened by the enormous loss for the people of France and the world, and then were suddenly filled with hope of the possibilities provided by something new. We wondered what could be “more beautiful” than the original spire. It was quite a beautiful historic object with significance, reverence and meaning. Though, we wondered if the spire could not only be a symbol of hope and faith, but also actively connect to the people of France and serve all of humanity. We believe if something new is done, it should be deeply meaningful and yet accessible to all. How could the design not only revere the apostles and disciples, but also behave like one while honoring Christ as the light of the world?

How does your design celebrate the past and future of Notre-Dame?

Our design for the spire is inspired by the scripture of Pentecost in which people of all nations were gathered together and witnessed God’s mercy through the power of the Holy Spirit. They were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:1-6) We reimagined the gothic arch as representing the Holy Spirit as both fire and dove through ethereal mirrored stainless steel which transcends time by being of the gothic language, but also current and timeless. We imagine the beauty of the reflected changing sky and an ethereal magic at dawn and sunset. Atop of the spire would be a translucent and luminescent cross, lifting Christ up in victory. The altar in the Cathedral below features the Pieta with Mary holding her son at the base of the cross. In our design Notre-Dame, our beloved lady, through the Holy Spirit, again holds her son and now proclaims He lives.

To connect the spire directly to the people of Paris and all of humanity, we created a nine part sculpture in the Plaza representing the Holy Spirit (counselor and advocate) as both fire and rising dove and sharing the nine fruits of the spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). Each piece of the sculpture would be reflected in pools of water and inscribed with one of the fruits of the spirit in all of the world’s 7,000 languages. The New Testament has only been translated into 1,500 languages and this sculpture provides the opportunity for all the world to learn and witness the goodness of God’s mercy and love providing a new Pentecost experience. Each piece of the sculpture would also be inscribed with a link or QR code for 9 rotating world charitable organizations striving to bring peace, love, service and mercy to all parts of the globe.
Translating the languages of the globe also honors the French people and their history of translation and giving humanity back the Egyptian language and Egyptian history when Jean-Francois Champollion translated the Rosetta Stone in 1822. In essence the sculpture is a Rosetta Stone for all the world.
We have suggested restoring the ceiling of the Cathedral as it was (with appropriately distinguished new materials) to honor the original feel of the space and to preserve the original beauty created by French ingenuity long ago for future generations. Looking to the future, we have suggested incorporating disguised wind and solar power technology at the roof to generate power and to support a sustainable future.
We recognize the challenge of many who revere the craft, beauty and symbolism of the original Cathedral to precisely restore the original. Though, we also honor an honesty about building and recognize the guidelines for conservation and restoration including the 1964 “Venice Charter”, established by the International Council on Monuments and Sites which states, “The intention in conserving and restoring monuments is to safeguard them no less as works of art than as historical evidence… Replacements of missing parts must integrate harmoniously with the whole, but at the same time must be distinguishable from the original so that restoration does not falsify the artistic or historic evidence.”
Our design seeks to infuse religious symbolism with the existing gothic language and form of the Cathedral, through modern materials and construction techniques to provide a design that is both accessible and sensitive to the existing architecture and spirituality the place represents. Then embracing this opportunity, reaches out in a new way to the whole world to spread love, hope and mercy. We believe in the power of art and architecture. This message is especially powerful as the Summer Olympics visit Paris in 2024.
We are thankful for the opportunity to share this concept and our story. We hope the dialog continues with the French Government and the Catholic Church, and a new chapter begins of sharing hope with the world.

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