The Catholic University team is restoring the framework for Notre Dame Cathedral


The greatest goal of authenticity for Tonya Ohnstad, visiting professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Planning and Deputy Dean for Graduate Studies at the Catholic University, is not how the new framework for the Notre Dame Cathedral is being built.

It is that path it has been built – with architects and clients who work together instead of separately.

“For me, it’s really about making, and as one of the other lecturers said, the architect and the builder broke up somewhere in the Middle Ages,” said Ohnstad. “And for me it’s really about taking the chance that these two people will meet again and have the chance to understand each other a little better.”

Volunteers lift the truss by hand with ropes.

Permission granted by the Catholic University of America / Patrick G. Ryan

At Washington, DC, University, Ohnstad, a group of carpenters, architecture students and volunteers are using 800-year-old methods to reconstruct an important part of the cathedral, which was built in 1345. Their restoration has been going on since 2019. A fire broke out in the attic during renovations. The fire damaged the iconic lead tip and also destroyed “The Forest”, a group of trusses made from old logs from a French forest nearly a millennium ago.

Investigators believe the fire was accidental and arose due to an electrical circuit problem. Since the fire, millions of dollars have been poured into the reconstruction from around the world.

French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to rebuild the cathedral Based on the design by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc from 1844, a French architect who was overseeing the restoration work on the cathedral at the time. Macron’s goal is to complete the project for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, a schedule some experts consider unrealistic.

In addition, there was considerable debate in terms of the way the cathedral is being rebuilt, with some advocating a more modern construction and others seeking historical accuracy and adherence to Viollet-le-Duc’s design. In the end, a historical perspective prevailed while adhering to new safety standards.

So far, the workers have cleared away rubble and construction is scheduled to begin in autumn 2022. according to Architectural Digest.

With this vision in mind, in the shadow of the nearby Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Ohnstad and his company are handcrafting Virginia trunks with axes and using traditional carpentry techniques to build a brand new half-timbered structure, the 45th century. tall will be feet wide and 35 feet high. Some of the practices include chopping the wood by hand with axes as opposed to power tools and using these medieval joinery techniques to hold the trusses together and in place, at the exact times they were used.

It will eventually be installed in Notre Dame Cathedral and given as a gift to France.

A world icon

Catholic University in May announced his participation in the programthat is guided from Norwell, Massachusetts, the nonprofit Handshouse Studio, in collaboration with local partners and professional carpenters and traditional construction experts from all over the country. Organizations like the National Park Service and Charpentiers sans Frontieres (Carpenters Without Borders) helped build the framework.

Ohnstad held a class on traditional Notre Dame construction, during which students learned older carpentry methods, timber harvesting and construction techniques, and made their own scale models of the much larger half-timbering that will later be placed in the cathedral.

Ohnstad said she sees the rebuilding process as an opportunity for all interested students to get involved, including people who may have been left out at the time of the original construction. She said the innovations may not be about structure or shape, but rather the inclusion of people, such as people of color, who were excluded from the original construction.

The truss was completed this week and blessed on August 5th in the shadow of the Basilica by Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, DC.

“I think the Notre Dame is a world icon, it doesn’t belong to just one person or a base or a culture, it belongs to the whole world,” said Ohnstad.



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