Local Architecture Professor Reflects on Notre Dame Cathedral Fire

AMES, Iowa -- The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral is heartbreaking for many across the world, including people right here in central Iowa.

Thomas Leslie, an Iowa State University Morrill Professor in Architecture, has traveled to Paris to see the iconic Notre Dame at least a dozen times. He says Monday's fire affects humanity.

“Well, it's a loss for architecture, obviously, but it's such an iconic piece of architecture that it's a loss for anyone that's been to Paris or anyone who's even seen it,” Leslie said. “It's such a beautiful thing and such an icon of what a building can be.”

Leslie uses Notre Dame multiple times a year in his studio to show students a prime example of Gothic architecture, but this year he was able to give his classroom a real life look at the cathedral.

“My studio this semester is based in Paris, so all of us just went to Paris in January and we were in Notre Dame,” Leslie said. “I walked into studio yesterday and there was just this sort of silence and people were watching it online, and we were talking about what we were seeing there and trying to think through what would likely happen with a fire of that scale. We were talking about what the first steps would be after the fire was put out to salvage what was there.”

Leslie was actually more optimistic than most when he saw the fire. While he knew timber roofs on these Gothic cathedrals are highly flammable, he also knew most of the structure below on Notre Dame was built out of stone which doesn't burn. He says that while it is a major loss, it's also a major opportunity to step back and evaluate the importance of what it means to rebuild an over 800-year-old building.

“There's more to learn than just how to rebuild the building or find out what happened,” Leslie said. “I think we do have this question of how do we as caretakers, basically, rebuild this in a way that 20 or 30 generations from now, the building feels like the real Notre Dame.”

The French president vowed to rebuild Notre Dame within five years. Leslie believes it could take decades to get it back to where it truly was before the fire.

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