Notre Dame: Q&A with Piers Taylor

What was your initial response on seeing footage of the Notre Dame fire raging?

Well, of course it’s sad, but we’re surrounded by extraordinary tragedy all the time, including, of course the loss of our natural environment where we destroy over 150 acres of rainforest every minute and do not give it a second thought, yet fall into mourning at the loss of a building.


What do you think is the cultural/historic significance of Notre Dame?

It’s of course hugely significant and yet symbolic of a different age where we needed relatively simple religious icons and also cultural symbols to bind us together. We’re much more plural as a society now and I think need different and secular public buildings.


What do you think of the French government’s proposal to rapidly rebuild the roof and spire?

I think they should take it slower to work out what is needed. I’m not sure it’s an either/or approach (restore exactly or have a new ‘icon’ which encourages vacuous statement by old starchitects.


How does the approach to restoration/conservation differ in France and Britain?

I’m not sure the UK is (now) that sophisticated in how it treats old buildings. Old buildings need to change and adapt – buildings (except for the most binary Modernist concluded artefacts) continue to change and evolve, and the UK has a relatively simplistic yearning for pure authenticity which doesn’t exist.


How can modern technology influence restoration, and should it?

Well, of course it can and should influence it – we have little choice that it does, be it in digital and 3D scanning techniques or physical conservation methods.


If you were president of France how would you respond to the fire damaged Notre Dame?

I’d resist the need to gain political capital and provide a simple way forward. There’s a both/and type way forward with the right architect.

The boring response is that I’d consult with the French equivalent of the RIBA.

The interesting response is I’d unilaterally appoint Amateur Architecture to oversee the restoration, and resist, ever, them he appointment of a corporate big name like Foster.



Piers Taylor is an Architect and founder of Invisible Studio. He was the inaugural Studio Master at the Architectural Association for the Design & Make Programme at Hooke Park, a former Design Fellow at the University of Cambridge, and was awarded the anniversary PhD scholarship in 2017.

Award-winning Invisible Studio operate from a self built studio located in a working woodland which they also manage as an ongoing forest enterprise alongside practice. They have a particular interest in how material practice can address social and political questions.