Ghost of Notre Dame

How can you put words to something like this? No wordsmith I, pictures I draw, yes?

Architecture has always had an important and significant role in civilization. And what is civilization? It is the collective memory of where we ARE as a species after thousands of years, good, bad, or otherwise. And we KNOW where we ARE because the artifacts and edifices of our collective memory is the built environment.

Today and future generations will know a little less, remember a little less, of our collective past. Living memory only lasts a couple of generations. The built environment lasts millennia. The Cathedral Notre Dame is and was a perfect memory of what those people KNEW, who they thought they WERE, their place in the world, and we are all richer and better for that memory.

A memory you can see and touch, that can put you back into the mind of a 12th Century architect and master builder, is a precious thing. A rare thing. Irreplaceable. Architects, I think, feel that link to the past directly. Most of us are aware our efforts are judged against a tapestry of masterpieces thousands of years long. And we are lucky if our works fit the weave and contribute to the tapestry when we are done. The public doesn’t have that intimate relationship with buildings, but when they walk into the cathedral, or St. Peter’s, or see the Egyptian pyramids at sunrise, Stonehenge on the Solstice, they “get it.” It is awesome.

Today a ragged hole was burned in that tapestry. A part of our collective memory gone. Forever. You could stand in a space shared by kings and queens, bishops and popes, the good the bad and the ugly (Victor Hugo’s novel, right?) for over 900 years and wonder how they felt, what they thought. We can see how that architect and master builder thought back in the 12th Century. They were magnificent. The building they wrought was magnificent.

Like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, we see the Cathedral Notre Dame reduced now into the ashes of history to be dispersed on the winds of change.