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Interviews

Niklas Brockmann-Smith creates an astonishingly sensitive yet modern design for Notre-Dame Cathedral


Niklas Brockmann-Smith from Coventry University, shares his inspiration and process behind his Notre-Dame design.
Niklas Brockmann-Smith creates an astonishingly sensitive yet modern design for Notre-Dame Cathedral

NIKLAS BROCKMANN-SMITH

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Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and Denmark and have loved traveling the cities of Europe finding beauty within architecture and design from the ancient to the modern. Having studied Architecture at Coventry University, where I achieved a 1st Class Honors BSc in Architecture, I am currently looking for work experience prior to starting my Masters and completing my studies.

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

Having been fortunate enough to visit Notre Dame I was amazed by its beauty - in particular its use of delicately diffused light, resplendent colours and grace of the soaring volumes. I was, along with so many others, left feeling horrified and helpless as the flames ripped through the roof. I wanted to help – to contribute in some way to the conversation - and so the idea of the new rose window was born. The competition presented the opportunity to develop my ideas and provided a platform to share them.

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

Notre Dame de Paris is a magnificent Gothic icon and UNESCO world heritage site but for the people of France it is so much more than a building. As President Macron put it so well "Notre Dame is our history, our literature, part of our psyche, the place of all our great events, our epidemics, our wars, our liberations, the epicentre of our lives ...".

It was of critical importance to me that any proposed enhancement must be carefully considered and draw inspiration from the past to celebrate and harmonize with, rather than impose itself upon the existing aesthetic. The theory of honesty is therefore key, as it is also vital that any addition is recognizable as such in order to avoid being misleading.

Each of the two new Rose Windows proposed celebrate past and future but these elements are given different weight in each.



The interior Rose looks more to the past. The scenes within it memorialize in glass the cathedral’s history; while its structure blends elements of Gothic architecture to create new forms, but these nevertheless retain the values of their context. The tracery draws on the Geometric style used elsewhere in the cathedral, but combines it with Intersecting, which although Gothic is not used in Notre Dame. The form of the window is translated into the horizontal plane and moulded to follow the geometry of the groin vault creating a structure which presents ever changing perspectives as one passes below. The blend of past and present is a traditional Rose Window re-interpreted with modern technology and design to create a unique and modern evolution which looks to the future.



The exterior rose by contrast is balanced in favour of the future; it is unmistakably modern and therefore the clearest indication of change. However, it does not dismiss the past: it follows the lines of the original roof as it encircles the base of Viollet-le-Duc’s rebuilt spire. The structure which supports the panes of glass is a modern minimalist vision of the rose window whose materiality marry it to the lead roof – although the toxicity of the lead could be avoided with visually similar replacements such as zinc.

I believe that the proposed design balances the past and future, honesty and harmony, conservation and innovation to create a celebration of the great cathedral so it retains its place as an icon in the hearts of the French people now and for generations to come.

 

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