RSAA / BÜRO ZIYU ZHUANG shares their inspiration and process behind their Notre-Dame design.
RSAA is an international practice, with offices in Germany and China. Unlike most offices with this setup we don`t see the Chinese side as merely an extension of the German office with a lower salary level, but instead we have lead designers educated in the US, Europe and Asia. We see each other as vessels of information, including of course our professional experience and education, but also our cultural and personal background that we carry with us. Developing ideas between these elements is rarely easy or efficient, but our way to create new ideas that are culturally and historically embedded, without leaving that history unchallenged.
Upon seeing the destruction caused to Notre Dame de Paris we felt compelled to use our language, the language of images, to carry a discussion into the general public. Through such a mundane thing as beauty, we want to take the fear of change away from people. The seemingly obvious reaction to the destruction - a direct reconstruction - seemed wrong to us for two reasons:
Firstly, the fire has happened, it is now part of the history of this building. Notre Dame de Paris it is a living monument, not an isolated idea that was once created, finished and since then never changed.
Secondly, while we understand the initial reaction, to “just want the church back”, and not make a statement - this is in fact a statement itself. We do not share the attitude, that our best days lie in the past, and instead choose to believe they are still to come.
We believe that all aspects of history make history. The intention of the gothic builders. The original cathedral, formed by both that intention, but also by the techniques of their time. The spire by Viollet-le-Duc. The fire itself, but also our idea of the future.
So we want to create something new, rooted in the stories of the building. So, we recreate the shape of the roof, as well as Viollet-le-Duc’s spire on the outside. However, instead of building it in conventional means, we display the shapes through a sequence of transparent shards. When seen at an angle, these show a glistening reconstruction of the roof. When looked at from the sides however the cathedral’s roof starts disappearing, allowing the indirect, but evading the direct look. The building starts merging with the skies above and at the same time gives a subtle reminder of the damage done to it in the past.
It is best described with the Japanese word Kintsukuroi, which means “golden repair” and describes the art of fixing broken pottery with powdered gold. We adapt this idea and form a new Notre Dame from it, proud of its history and hopeful for the future.