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Paris: Plan is Approved for the Rehabilitation of the Square of the Cathedral of Notre Dame 

Jean XXIII Square, known before as the Archbishop’s Garden or I’lle-de-France Square, is located in front of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral and is about to be re-modelled. The National Commission of Architecture and Patrimony gave a positive opinion to the development proposed, although without concrete benches and keeping all the doors around closed.

For a long time, the forty experts of the National Commission of Architecture and Patrimony discarded the plan for the surroundings of Notre Dame of Paris. Now they have approved it before the First Deputy Mayor of Paris, Emmanuel Grégoire, who described them two days earlier as opponents of the plan and liars. However, the plan has been accepted with recommendations. Albéric de Montgolfier said “we were presented with only one draft, but we didn’t think it was necessary to reaffirm that Jean XXIII Square must remain closed, for reasons of security and preservation. Likewise, we requested that the street furniture be preserved, including the Davioud benches.”

Bas Smets, the architect in charge of the renovation, is a landscape gardener and proposes an urban forest in the esplanade that looks towards Notre-Dame, with changing rooms under the esplanade and openings to the Seine, in addition to an urban walk behind the Cathedral and lawn to the end of the Island. Although not all the Commission’s experts are in agreement in developing reception areas for tourists in the basement, the group admitted the need to open a museum dedicated to Notre-Dame of Paris in the Hôtel-Dieu space of Paris, the adjoining building which is in full renovation. 

The Commission’s opinion, although advisory, is usually executed. The approval received, although with reservations, has not been without controversy.

The critics reject the remodelling of Jean XXIII Square. They invite the public to compare what exists with what is planned, with photos published on the social networks: a small Square with flowers and protected by doors, and the architect’s vision with groups of tourists sitting on the lawn. The Square has been closed since the 2019 fire. 

The Mayor of Paris is looking for spaces shared with nature. The Tangui Le Dantec and Dominique Dupré-Henry architects, members of the “Aux Arbres Citoyens” [literally “To Citizens Trees] Association opine that it “is the invasion of the Paris-plage [Paris beach] in the development policy of Parisian public spaces.” By asking that the doors be kept closed, it seems that the Commission listened to them. 

A letter of the opponents, dated May 9, supports the request of the “Let’s Save the Squares of Notre-Dame” group, which takes up the same argument and was signed by 44,000 people. Notre-Dame is a treasure of Paris and of the whole world. The controversy reflects the different exiting positions in face of the recovery of the great religious monument.