Between all the fake news surrounding the devastating fire at Notre-Dame de Paris, one news article really lifted our spirits. Nearly a billion euros has been pledged to rebuild it, but how do you go about rebuilding such a historic building? That’s where technology can help.

President Macron said that the cathedral would be rebuilt within five years, but experts like those restoring Strasburg cathedral said it was likely to take decades. Work on Notre-Dame started over 850 years ago and took nearly two hundred years to complete. It’s highly likely that any drawings or archival material about its construction are incomplete or incorrect.

“Historic[al] drawing[s] or even modern drawings are only accurate up to a certain degree.”
Lindsay Peterson, Architectural historian

Professor Andrew Tallon painstakingly scanned Notre-Dame, inside and out, creating an unparalleled record of every detail of the structure. Tallon’s model consists of 1 billion data points. These are stitched together with panoramic photographs to create a full digital 3D recreation of Notre-Dame with incredible detail and resolution.

This model, and the technology used to create it, represent a significant development in the restoration of historic buildings. Typically, when people draw buildings they tend to try and make things look perfectwith right angles and everything sitting in the right place. Not just because it makes for a nice drawing but because it makes sense in our heads. But that’s not how buildings are. They’re lopsided and imperfect. If you’ve ever done any DIY, you’ll know that buildings are rarely straightlet alone one built so long ago.

Just like how digital twins are being used to help companies test out different scenarios without disrupting operations, replicas like this could help visualise and plan restoration workthe current best practice is not to try and hide changes, but to make them obvious, while sympathetic, so future generations can see what’s original. A competition has been launched to redesign Notre-Dame’s fallen spire, imagine the possibilities we could have if each architect can test their design on the digital model first.

Digital replicas have a lot of potential both as a contingency plan and a way to offer visitors a new way to exploreeven if they can’t visit in person. Hopefully other historic sites will opt to do the same and this terrible disaster will help open up many other cultural icons and preserve them for generations to come.

Posted by John on 18 April 2019