With plans already underway to create an 'extraordinary garden' in and around the Champs-Élysées, an international competition to redesign the area around Notre Dame cathedral has now concluded - and been awarded to Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.
“Before, my Paris friends would never come here and I wondered why. It’s a beautiful space on an island near water. We want to bring people back and make it come alive,” he says.
His ambitious plan, which garnered the unanimous support of the jury, includes more trees, a clever cooling system for the large area in front of the cathedral during heatwaves and a new reception centre and archaeological museum in the now-abandoned car park underneath the main square opening on to the banks of the Seine.
As a wave of public emotion swept France after the fire at the cathedral in April 2019, President Emmanuel Macron vowed the cathedral would be restored to its former glory by 2024 and it will reopen. Smets’ team will begin transforming the area around it in 2025 and he hopes it will be completed in 2027.
Photographs: Studio Alma pour le Groupement BBS
Smets envisages the square in front of the cathedral as a kind of “clearing” surrounded by trees giving shade to those queueing to visit in summer and creating new views on to the River Seine. The idea is to repave the area with stones from a dozen French quarries cut to exactly the same size as the tiles inside the cathedral. A ground cooling system will then be installed that will send a 5mm sheet of water across the square in front of the cathedral during the summer. This will lower the temperature of the area by several degrees, produce a microclimate around the cathedral and create a shimmering and reflective foreground for tourists’ photographs.
Another challenge was to create a greener space and plant more trees without obstructing “protected” views of the cathedral, solved by planting new trees in a precise pattern behind existing ones.
He will also merge the current patchwork of parks, roads and riverside spaces surrounding the monument, planting 30 percent more trees and greenery, and with lawns flanking the Seine.
“The cathedral has been a witness of change for 800 years. During that time you can see the island around it has changed, the buildings around it have changed, but Notre Dame has remained the same,” says Smet. “By redesigning the area around it we are putting Notre Dame back at the heart of the whole city.”
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