A digital rebirth for Notre-Dame

Artists and architects compete in restoration project.

The team led by Bureau Bas Smets will be redesigning the landscape surrounding Notre-Dame. (Source: Autodesk France and Bureau Bas Smets)

France is still working hard on the restoration of Notre-Dame de Paris after a devastating fire destroyed most of the roof, the building’s 19th-century spire, upper walls, and part of the rib vaulting in April 2019. However, that historic cathedral is not the only part of the site that requires work—the surrounding area likewise is in need of refurbishment.

To bring about a new vision for the future of Notre-Dame, the city of Paris organized a competition, which kicked off in 2021, to elicit fresh design concepts for the urban landscape around the cathedral. This includes the courtyard, its subterranean spaces (underground parking and historical crypt), the squares, the area along the banks of the Seine River, and adjacent streets. The city of Paris, in collaboration with Autodesk, invited four international teams of urban planners, architects, and landscape architects to participate in the challenge and redesign the space surrounding this famous landmark.

Autodesk provided expertise along with multiple tools and assets (including their BIM solution) to further assist the teams during their development stages. This included a 3D model of the current site that was given to the teams to better understand and evaluate the area.

By jury vote, the team led by Bureau Bas Smets was selected last month as the winner of the competition. The team is led by Bureau Bas Smets, with the architect agency/urban planner GRAU, and for the heritage component, the architecture agency Neufville-Gayet.

Autodesk helped all four teams generate photorealistic 3D visualizations of their designs, which provided a clear picture of their visions for the jury as well as the public. Also, since so much of the landscape and architecture can be viewed in a virtual environment prior to construction, city officials believe it will lead to fewer errors and better communication between them and the team.

In speaking about their design, Bureau Bas Smets landscape architect Charlotte Fagart said, “The project rethinks the emblematic public spaces around Notre-Dame as an assemblage of climatic atmospheres. The various working sessions with the Autodesk team helped to confirm the project hypotheses initially tested in the plan and model. In addition, the model facilitated the jury’s understanding of the project by immersing them in different places and areas of the project.”

Construction of the new surroundings is set to begin in 2024, with completion set for 2028.

“Through this new project, Paris is reaffirming its commitment to digital transformation and is now positioning itself as one of the first ‘cities of the future’ by placing digital technology at the heart of its strategy to accelerate urban modernization, and Autodesk is proud once again to partner with the city of Paris on their digital journey,” said Nicolas Mangon, Autodesk VP of AEC and Industry Strategy. “During this competition to reimagine the surroundings of Notre-Dame cathedral, the use of an intelligent 3D model, immersive 3D visualization tools, and the implementation of collaborative methodologies have considerably accelerated the jury’s decision-making process. These tools will also allow Parisians and tourists alike to feel, experience, and appreciate the richness of the history and heritage of Notre-Dame de Paris and its surroundings before the project’s completion.”

In addition to the team led by Bureau Bas Smets, the three other groups were:

  • The team led by landscape architect Michel Desvignes, with the agencies Grafton Architects and h2o, as well as the urban planner Urban Eco.
  • The team led by the architecture agency of Aymeric Antoine and Pierre Dufour, with the landscaper Ateliers jours and the town planner Auxilia.
  • The team led by urban-landscape designer Jacqueline Osty & associés, with architect Bernard Desmoulin and the Orma Architettura agency, heritage architects.

The winning design, along with those from the other teams, will be displayed at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal in Paris for public viewing.