3D Printing Notre Dame’s Restoration: Thinking Outside The 14th Century Box

The ambitious five-year reconstruction goal set by the French government following the fire in Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral has left restoration experts scrambling.

Two key problems hinder the Notre Dame reconstruction efforts: resources and skillset. Authentic sources of much of the stone and wood used to complete Notre Dame are simply nonexistent: the 800-year-old Beachwood beams were from trees of a size no longer found in France; and the Lutetian limestone that made up the bulk of the cathedral’s structure and décor came from quarries now largely buried under the Paris cityscape.

“I am very grateful and proud to be part of such an incredible community of practitioners, entrepreneurs and investors that are all united by a single purpose: to bring additive manufacturing to manufacturing strength and scale,” said Avi Reichental.

Moreover, the artisans needed to accomplish specialized tasks like stonemasonry and woodworking on the scale of Notre Dame are in short supply. One expert estimated that this shortage of specialized labor could significantly set the entire project back.

All this leaves me wondering: are we thinking in 14th-century terms about a problem to which we could apply 21st-century solutions?

It’s worthwhile noting that the Notre Dame fire has clearly demonstrated that digital twinning–the process of creating virtual replicas of physical structure or products so simulations can be run on them–at a level suitable for duplication, is not just a trend. It’s clearly an imperative–especially for items of irreplaceable societal or cultural value. The detailed digital records of pre-fire Notre Dame (including those created by Ubisoft for its Assassin’s Creed Unity game) will prove invaluable to the restoration efforts.

Yet given the lack of materials and craftsmanship, these efforts may be in danger. While I understand and support the French government’s commitment to authenticity in restoration, the authenticity of the final product is in no way diminished by the methods or materials employed. For me, when it comes to restoring Notre Dame, the ends truly do justify the means.

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