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Few structures hold memory and majesty like Notre Dame Cathedral. For those who have experienced it, it is a moving and powerful edifice. Both members of our team have been fortunate enough to experience the cathedral. So to respect its legacy, we focused on the effects and qualities of Gothic architecture. In order to investigate this we diagrammed abstractly and put our design motivations into words. After intensive drawing and long discussion we identified six attributes: anatomy, consciousness, parousia (anticipation), tectonics, the fold, and gravity. In the place of the old spire there is a platform where the surface of the roof, an oxidized lead, ascends upwards. At the utmost point the spire anticipates a highly reflective chrome shard that passes beyond its height, and in section descends downward through the spire, the roof, and down into the sanctuary itself. This ephemeral object reflects and materializes the light of its context, tangibly connecting the spire to the interior of the church. The platform of the spire becomes a horizon line between this ascent and descent. The interior surface of the spire, in contrast to the oxidized lead of the exterior, is canvas, like that of the wings of a plane or sails of a ship. The canvas is pulled taut and adhered to the structure behind to form a continuous, patterned surface. The canvas is light and opposes gravity by the upward pull of the spire. Look up, and you see light and shade embodied in the canvas and reflected by the shard. Look down, and you peer through the dark oculus through which the shard passes into the cathedral. The experience of this movement reaches the onlooker, whether within the cathedral, on the spire platform, or on the streets of the city. All is connected by this shard of light, and at each scale it affects us with an image and effect that is essentially human: to strive for the utmost. This omnipresent upwardness dominates and defines the history of mankind and of Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Why do we look up? What hides beyond? Do we look out and to the other because we are looking for ourselves? If so, then for whom, to whom do we look when we look into the highest places? Perhaps the horizontal beyond reflects us as we are, even as we could strive to be. But the utmost, that must speak to us of our ultimate potential, what we could have been. Does this even follow? I think it is intuitive. As humans we are constantly peering upward, wishing upon a star, shooting for the moon, aiming high, etc. When we are disappointed we are in the dumps, feeling low, or we’ve hit rock bottom. We feel like we have fallen short, and when we’ve regained some hope and pluck, we dare to look upward once again, dreaming to transcend our limited selves. Someone in us calls us upward, and if we heed the call, we climb.
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