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“A waterfall of light," by Dr. Cuong Phu Nguyen and Mrs. Nga Thi Hang Nguyen

Dr. Cuong Phu Nguyen and Mrs. Nga Thi Hang Nguyen share their inspiration and process behind their unique water-inspired Notre-Dame design.

Dr. Cuong Phu Nguyen and Mrs. Nga Thi Hang Nguyen

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your team?

We both started our journey in architecture in 1995, at Hanoi Architectural University in Vietnam, our origin country.  After the 1st year, we received a governmental scholarship to study at the Cracow University of Technology, in Poland, where we obtained our MSc. Degree in Architecture and Urban Design.  After two years of practising architecture in Poland, I (Cuong Nguyen) received a PhD scholarship at the University of Nottingham in 2003 and that brought us to live and develop our professional career in the UK.  

Since then, we have been practising architecture and worked on a wide range of projects of all sectors, from very large-scale master planning to stadium, sports and leisure centres, hotels, residential, schools, industrial, logistic and retail buildings. Having studied and worked in several countries with distinctive and rich cultures and architecture enabled us with an open-minded design approach and genuine respect of culture, history and local context. This might have helped us to succeed in the Notre Dame competition.

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

We took part in this competition, most importantly, because we shared the pain with millions of people all over the world after the tragic fire. We believe that Notre Dame, the symbol of Paris and French culture, religion and history cannot be destroyed. Therefore, we, as architects, sincerely would like to contribute our effort to recover this masterpiece of France and mankind, with an innovative, romantic but practical solution.

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

"Nobody bathes twice on a river". Time changes, so do architecture and people. If not, humanity has not made progress from the Stone Age until today.

Cherishing the past and history does not mean holding on to only one form of architecture, styles, or ideology.  In our opinion, both the old roof and the recent fire have become important parts of Notre Dame history, which should be memorized in some way. However, this does not necessarily mean identical copying the architectural form, materials and technologies of hundred years ago that is no longer suitable.

When studying the Notre Dame's history, we will see that the old roof and Spire, as well as the Rose windows,  were only added by the prominent architect Violet le Duc by the mid-19th century, while the church itself has a history of over 850 years old.  At that time, those new details also encountered intense opposition, until they gradually asserted their values ​​and were accepted.  Those stories and legends also created the magic appeal of historical buildings, not only their architecture.

We understand that there are always different opinions and approaches in architecture and life. But the crucial thing is that we should have a respectful and careful attitude towards whatever we do. And time will be the most accurate assessor. What has true value will stand and survive.  What is not suitable will gradually be replaced, one way or another.

Even the last fire, which, sooner or later will happen to the old wooden roof structure, as they were "built to burn".  They were built with outdated technologies and materials, which are environmentally unfriendly and highly flammable. Their structure made them difficult to access and check regularly for fire prevention. There have been many similar fires in churches and ancient buildings around the world for the same reason.

Regarding our idea of a ​​“waterfall of light”, in addition to the desire to achieve aesthetic effect and utility, we also have in our hearts the thought of how to ease the regret with what we lost because of the tragic fire. A waterfall flowing down from the sky will be the image of the miracle of the Lord, soothing all pains. And to put out the fire, is there anything better than water

Our proposal will still maintain the scale and proportion of the old roof and the spire to achieve harmony with the existing features. An art gallery, with windows and fountains along both sides and above, and a central waterfall and a sight-seeing tower as a focal point, will bring people wonderful experiences inside and outside the building, day and night.  The new roof with a waterfall and fountains will create an unprecedented and unique feature for Notre-Dame, which will perfectly add to its timeless beauty.