Architect Philippe Villeneuve had been overseeing the renovations of Notre Dame Cathedral for six years. Then, the masterpiece he had been working on since 2013 caught fire.
When firefighters extinguished the last flames, on the morning of April 15th, worried bystanders breathed a sigh of relief: the structure had remained intact. Still, the medieval church sustained serious damage, and its characteristic flèche - a 750-ton spire covered in lead, dating back to the 18th century - as well as most of the roof didn't make it.
Now, over a month into the discussions about what the reconstructed cathedral should look like, Philippe Villeneuve has told French newspaper Le Figaro what he thinks should change: nothing.
"For me, not only must you redo the spire, but you must recreate it exactly", Villeneuve said. "We're bound to the Venice Charter, which requires that we restore historic monuments in the last known state", he added, mentioning 1964 treaty for the conservation and restoration of monuments and sites.
His take contradicts President Emmanuel Macron's hopes of a "creative reconstruction" of Notre Dame that would represent "an alliance of tradition and modernity, a respectful audacity".
To substantiate his opinion, Macron had said that a modern reconstruction would pay tribute to the spirit of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the 19th-century architect who built the flèche that fell in April.
But Villeneuve disagrees: "the great strength of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc's masterpiece is that you couldn't tell its age. It blended in with a 13th-century medieval masterpiece. That's what we have to aim for", he said.
French citizens seem to agree: a YouGov poll at the end of April showed that 54% were in favour of rebuilding an identical version of Notre Dame, while only 25% rooted for a more contemporary architectural feat.
Still, Macron's government announced that it will hold an international competition on the reconstruction of the spire before it decides on the fate of the spire. "I said what I wanted to say - then, the government will decide", Villeneuve concluded.
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