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Interviews

Designers Zeyu Cai and Sibei Li win The People's Notre-Dame Cathedral Design Competition


Zeyu Cai and Sibei Li explore their design and inspiration
Designers Zeyu Cai and Sibei Li win The People's Notre-Dame Cathedral Design Competition

by GoArchitect Staff

2 weeks ago


Zeyu Cai and Sibei Li 

Can you tell us a little about yourselves?

I'm Zeyu, I grew up in the city of Hangzhou, China and went to Tsinghua University to start my architecture life. Six years undergraduate and graduate education built a firm foundation for me to start to explore the artistic, scientific and sophisticated architecture world.

My first stop was Cornell University. Their one-year graduate program is quite short, but it opens the gate to a different territory of urban, ecology, and representation. It inspired me a lot, and taught me how to gain knowledge through its academic methodology. Later, I settled down in Chicago and have been working for SOM for over two years. Everyday, I work to use creative thinking and rational drawing to turn an idea from sketches into reality.

Sibei is from Beijing, China. She grew up in this historical city and has always been fascinated by how architecture can stand across the eras and tell a four-dimensional story of the past to the future. Sibei went to undergraduate school in Beijing University of Technology and there began her exploration into the architecture. Architecture provides her a unique angle to view the world and a language to express herself. At Cornell, she expended her knowledge of how architecture could interact with other disciplines. Sibei now works in SOM, Chicago, where she turns conceptual ideas into rational details.

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

We still remember the day that Notre Dame caught fire, we could not believe it even after watching the video of the spire falling. The mixed feeling of shock, sadness and regret emerged in our mind. I visited Notre Dame twice, once in my childhood before my architecture education, and another time during my internship in Europe.

Sibei visited Notre Dame during her voluntary work in the Europe. Even though we visited Notre Dame at different ages, in different years, and through different backgrounds; the feeling we got has a lot in common. We believe that is the power of Notre Dame. We truly appreciate the proportion, materiality, light and space in a professional approach. We were also impressed by the grandness, beauty, and the peaceful atmosphere that Notre Dame creates, and how this power overwhelms people's hearts.

This architecture legacy is not only for Paris but also for the rest of the world. Notre Dame is a witness to human history for over 800 years. It burns, it survives, and it co-breathes with the ever-changing world. Every time the disaster left its impression upon Notre Dame and that became an indelible part of its history. Now we witnessed Notre Dame's big moment, we want to contribute our idea to the restoration and reconstruction of Notre Dame. Visualization of the Notre Dame's nirvana by architecture language is the best way to show our great respect for the past of Notre Dame and best wishes to its future. That is why we decided to participate in this competition without a second thought. 

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

Our proposal consists of three parts; a crystal roof as a mirror to reflect historical urban context, a spire's tip as a time capsule to retrospect the history, and the main spire as a city kaleidoscope to celebrate the vision of a cityscape. 

The new spire is interpreted into poly-mirrors based on the classical proportions and octagonal geometry of original Viollet-le-Duc’s spire, gently reflecting the context together with the mirror roof. Every moment, the building will have a new look, matching the changing urban environment. A strong connection among the building, the city and the time has been established by the dramatic reflection.

A time capsule, designed to be open every half century, is floating at the top of the spire. The magnetic levitation high-tech installation keeps the memory for the past and reserves the space for future story. The spire's tip, symbolizing the Paris heartbeat, moves rhythmically up and down breathing and beating together with the city. 

The inside reflection of the tower spire creates a city kaleidoscope. The vibrant and colorful glass dyes the light while the double spiral structure expresses the shadow. The romantic beauty and rational logic of the Rose Window of Notre Dame is fully interpreted into our proposal in an artistic and tectonic way.

In the center of the kaleidoscope is the bottom spherical surface of the floating time capsule. Through the dramatic reflection, people can see the collage city around, with the portrait of themselves at the focal point. The space and time tangled together in this illusory space. Here, people remind, people confess, people pray. The new spire, functions as a religious symbol, provides an open answer to the belief and hope for everyone, and represents the memory, presence and future. 

 

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