A life-size replica of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss creaked gently in the morning sun as dozens of students and volunteers pulled on ropes to lift it above the lawn of the Catholic University of Paris. America in Washington, DC
The truss – a roof support – was erected just hours before Philippe Villeneuve and Rémi Fromont, chief architects responsible for restoring the historic cathedral, traveled to the United States for the first time since a fire engulfed the medieval church in 2019.
The first stop for architects, according to the university, would be to see the farmhouse.
The elevation was no small feat: the 45 feet wide by 35 feet high white oak structure weighs 8,100 pounds. Its creation, the university notes, is also noteworthy. Produced using 800-year-old traditional methods, the hand-hewn farmhouse was created using plans from the original.
In collaboration with the educational association home studio and other groups, the university’s School of Architecture and Planning designed the farmhouse in a 10-day workshop last year as part of the Notre-Dame de Paris farm project. A team of carpenters, carpenters, teachers and students followed the French protocol of the Middle Ages in everything from harvesting wood and tools to assembly.
“I understand that we are enacting the construction and use of a farmhouse which was made with authentic materials and according to an authentic method of construction when the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral was raised in the 12th century,” said University President Peter Kilpatrick told CNA.
While the creators originally dreamed of gifting the farmhouse to the cathedral, they now hope to donate their talents and travel to Paris.
“We will send American students and craftsmen there to work with their materials and supplies,” Sam Merklein, a graduate architecture student involved in the farmhouse project, told CNA.
In the meantime, the trellis resisted the National Mall – between the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol – as well as inside the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, and the Millennium Gate Museum in Atlanta.
Monday marked his fifth exhibition.
Merklein, a 23-year-old from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, called the effort “a symbol of solidarity, from the United States to offer condolences to the French.”
Opening the day with a prayer, Bishop John O. Barres of Rockville Center, administrator of the university, called for the intercession of the French saints for the reconstruction not only of the cathedral but also of the Catholic Church in France.
“This morning, we pray in solidarity with Parisians and people around the world who cherish the beautiful expression of the Catholic faith and the Catholic soul in Notre-Dame Cathedral in the art, architecture, liturgy and history,” Barres said.
Kilpatrick, along with André Finot, the cathedral’s director of communications, attended the levy. Afterwards, following an ancient tradition, one of the builders scaled the farmhouse to secure a sharpened, or evergreen, bush to the top as a sign of celebration.
Juan Soto, 24, of Ashburn, Va., called the placement of the farmhouse on the university lawn, next to the National Shrine Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, a “beautiful sight”.
“We all worked on this practice, we were able to carve the logs as they came in last summer,” said Soto, an architecture student who graduated earlier this year.
With this project, Kilpatrick said he hopes these students will come away with a newfound curiosity. He revealed that he attended Mass at Paris Cathedral as a young assistant professor during his first trip to France in 1984.
He explained today why he is excited about the farm project.
“It represents one of the most important elements of our university education, and that is that we believe in the integration of disciplines,” he told CNA. “So knowledge is not isolated in a discipline, it is not isolated in a time or a chronology. Knowledge is part of human understanding of God’s truth for the world and so when you integrate something like history and architecture and our human faith and culture – when you integrate all of these things – you help our students and our community to understand the continuity of knowledge and the relationship between disciplines.
Attorney Trevor O. Resurreccion, 43, traveled from Santa Ana, Calif., to witness the lift. Donor of the project, he attended the university’s school of architecture as an undergraduate.
“I jumped at the chance and thought, what a great way to not only support the school and the students here, but also a project that is important – not only for the Catholic University, but also for the people all over the world and, of course, Paris,” he told CNA.
Subsequently, the Finot of the cathedral, representatives of the Handshouse Studio and professors from the Catholic University participated in a round table. The group has identified two carpenters in attendance who will contribute to efforts to rebuild Notre-Dame de Paris – having established links through the farm project.
Marie Brown, Executive Director of Handshouse Studio, highlighted the beauty of building something as it was originally designed, whether with the latticework replica or with the cathedral itself.
“By doing something back in the original method, that maker’s process, that maker’s experience, is really embodied,” she said. “The person now takes the tool in hand. She may not even be familiar with it if she is a beginner, she may be next to an expert person and have the opportunity to watch and learn. But then their actual embodiment of that action puts you in the mind of the creator.
She added, “It suddenly brings out all that understanding of history in such a personal way.”