When French president Emmanuel Macron declared that he was open to “contemporary gestures” in rebuilding the fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral, architects around the world responded with proposals ranging from serene rooftop farms to a Louis Vuitton-themed rebrand, complete with the fashion house’s iconic logo stamped all over the roof.
Some of these concepts are presented as serious options, while others — including a transformation into a multi-story parking garage — are more tongue-in-cheek. “The Pool” by Ulf Mejergren Architects (UMA) probably falls somewhere in the middle of those extremes.
That’s not to say that installing a rooftop pool across the entirety of the cathedral’s roof isn’t absolutely absurd. Architectural purists in particular will undoubtedly loathe the idea, as will those who attend religious services at the cathedral (though it appears that UMA would keep the interiors exactly as they were before the fire). But as far as swimming pools go, this one would be undeniably epic. Can you imagine splashing around up there, gazing at centuries-old Gothic architecture and views of the entire city?
The Stockholm-based firm explains that their concept pays homage to the cathedral’s status as a landmark for the city and the sense that it belongs to the people and should serve their needs.
“Most proposals that we have seen put way too much focus and effort on the spire; a rather recent addition built in the 19th-century renovation,” they explain. “We think that the cathedral looks much better without both the spire and the led-clad roof. Instead we let the bell towers, the flying buttresses, and the rose windows do the talking. Given that we’re in the epicenter of Paris, the world’s cultural capital and a city filled with joie de vivre, [we’re] not planning on rebuilding the roof as it was.”
“Instead we are proposing a meditative public space; a complementary spatial experience to the building with unmatched views over Paris…the spire is gone, but the twelve statues of the apostles that were put away during the restoration and managed to escape the fire are once again back at the roof, now as guardians around a large public pool that occupies the whole roof. Maybe the pool will be replaced in a hundred years or so, becoming another layer of great stories for the future.”
Are Ulf Mejergren Architects really serious about their proposal? Probably not, but it was a clever bit of marketing for their own firm, and a successful one at that. Founded in 2014 by Ulf Mejergren, UMA is known for creative, visually striking projects that bring a sense of playfulness to urban spaces, like a study retreat made entirely from trained trees and another oversized infinity pool, this one envisioned for the Stockholm waterfront.
While President Macron announced a five-year timeline for the rebuilding of Notre Dame, heritage experts say that plan is not realistic due to the special care that will be needed to preserve and restore many of the cathedral’s original elements. There’s also likely to be a spirited public debate over whether France should go with a traditional restoration that stays true to the original or consider an adaptation that reflects all the structure has been through.