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"Notre Dame holds a special place in my heart," says architect Rogerio Carvalheiro

Rogerio Carvalheiro shares his inspiration and process behind his unique holographic Notre-Dame design.

"Notre Dame holds a special place in my heart," says architect Rogerio Carvalheiro

by GoArchitect Staff

A year ago

Rogerio Carvalheiro

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Born in Canada to Portuguese immigrants, Rogerio Carvalheiro grew up in a small farming community and migrated to the United States after completing his Bachelor in Fine Arts at the University of British Columbia. He then received his Master of Architecture from the University of California, Los Angeles. Since graduating he has worked for noteworthy LA design firms as well as Senior Design Director overseeing the restoration of Los Angeles Union Staton for Catellus Development Corporation and Senior Project Manager fo The Getty Villa for The J. Paul Getty Trust.

Rogerio founded RCDF Studio, a multidisciplinary design firm focusing on cultural, civic, commercial, and residential projects. He serves as Vice Chair for the City of West Hollywood’s Planning Commission and the Planning Commissions Design Review Subcommittee. He also serves as Chair for the Design Committee to the Foundation for The AIDS Monument. In addition to his work with his firm and civic engagements, he regularly teaches advanced design studio courses for UCLA Extension’s Architecture and Interior Design program.

What inspired you to enter the Notre-Dame design competition?

Having spent a notable amount of time in Paris throughout my life, Notre Dame holds a special place in my heart. I had been in Paris as recently as mid-December, staying on ile Saint-Louis and walking past the church every day. I’d spent several hours actually photo-documenting the interiors and exteriors at that time, something I hadn’t done in many years. When friends sent me a live feed of the fire as it was burning, part of me burned with it - so many memories, so much shock in recognition of what the potential loss of this architectural icon meant to me as an aspiring Parisian and native Catholic, too. I prayed that Notre Dame would survive, a testament to man’s architectural achievements. As a bee enthusiast working with mason bees in my home garden, news stories of the surviving bee colonies ultimately inspired me to seek a solution for Parisians and for them.

How does your design celebrate the past and future of Notre-Dame?

My proposal responds to both the cultural controversies surrounding Notre Dame’s iconography and the urgent needs of the structure as it now exists. Because it is my nature to anchor design in the pragmatic and the possible, I sought solutions to the problems now facing Notre Dame. Knowing that the structure was already in need of restoration at the time of the fire, my first thought was to preserve the existing integrity and interiors from the elements and from continuing decay. This is a very real and pressing concern, and one that required a solution that could be either temporary or long-term, but must be immediate and lightweight.

It also needed to celebrate the inventiveness and resilience of the French; something the structure has always done. I realized that an inflatable fiber glass roof supported by a light stainless steel frame, similar to those used for large-scale stadiums, might be the most viable and sustainable approach. The new profile of the roof could be tailored to make reference to the original while imparting a more illuminating effect in both day and night. The idea being that the inflated structure would be underlit at night, providing a striking lantern effect within the City of Lights.

The loss of the controversial spire added by Viollet-le-Duc in the mid-1800s restoration of the church suddenly became an intriguing argument to resolve. Was it possible to have it both ways in this new design? Providing a holographic projection of the spire at night settles the dispute. In the daylight, purists have the church they prefer. At night, the lantern rooftop with light-projected spire satisfies the modernists and provides counterpoint to the Eiffel Tower and also gestures to the history of the church.

The new roofline inspired by the past incorporates materials of the present and looks to the future with the holographic spire. The design also offers a placemark in the church’s history, bridging the timber forever lost to future construction options down the line. Understanding that the healthiest bee colonies in Europe today thrive in urban settings, it did not escape me that the smoke that puts the bees to sleep also saved their lives.

That struck me as a poetic metaphor for this most iconic church of the Western world to reawaken in a modern age. With that in mind, I incorporated an expanded bee colony into the base of the new roof structure design. My hope is this moment in Notre Dame’s history will commemorate Time, even calamity, as an active participant in the evolution of architecture.


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