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Architect Proposes a Solar-Powered Urban Farm For the Roof of Notre Dame Cathedral

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Architect Proposes a Solar-Powered Urban Farm For the Roof of Notre Dame Cathedral

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Turning Notre Dame Cathedral green is an emerging trend in the French government’s competition to design a new roof for the fire-damaged historic structure. First, Paris–based Studio NAB proposed replacing the damaged roof with a massive greenhouse, and now fellow Parisian and self-described “archibiotect” Vincent Callebaut has revealed a plan to turn the roof into a flourishing urban farm. 

The roof spire would create a thermal buffer to insulate the cathedral in the winter. It would also provide fresh air in the summer through evapotranspiration of the plants below.

The roof spire would create a thermal buffer to insulate the cathedral in the winter. It would also provide fresh air in the summer through evapotranspiration of the plants below.

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Callebaut’s firm, Vincent Callebaut Architects, specializes in conceptual ecological buildings that fight against global warming. The firm’s past project proposals include vertical farms for New York City’s Roosevelt Island and floating cities for climate refugees.

Applying this ethos to his city’s iconic cathedral, Callebaut has developed a spire covered with crystal solar panels that would serve as a “new symbol of spiritual aspiration” while turning Notre Dame into an energy-positive building.

The spire's wooden frame would be wrapped with a glass facade subdivided into faceted diamond-shaped elements.

The spire’s wooden frame would be wrapped with a glass facade subdivided into faceted diamond-shaped elements.

The new spire could harvest solar energy and store it in hydrogen fuel cells, ensuring that the cathedral has power to share. Underneath the spire, an urban farm could grow food through aquaponics and permaculture to feed Paris’s homeless. The amount of food would be so plentiful, posits Callebaut, that the cathedral could hold a weekly farmers’ market. 

Callebaut predicts that a Notre Dame rooftop garden could produce 21 tons of fruit and vegetables each year.

Callebaut predicts that a Notre Dame rooftop garden could produce 21 tons of fruit and vegetables each year.

In his proposed design, four gables mimic the original geometry of the 32-foot-high attic and converge over 55-degree pitched roofs that gradually stretch to create a vertical spire. The gables would be constructed with cross-laminated timber pre-stressed with carbon fiber slats, to minimize the amount of material used and maintain a low carbon footprint.

The light-filled glass spire would create "a new divine atmosphere from the narthex of two spans located between the towers," says Callebaut.

The light-filled glass spire would create “a new divine atmosphere from the narthex of two spans located between the towers,” says Callebaut.

A view of the spire's east facade and interior.

A view of the spire’s east facade and interior.

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