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Could Notre Dame's new spire be 3D printed?

24/04/2019
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Following the tragic blaze that collapsed Notre Dame’s iconic spire, Dutch 3D stone printing specialists Concr3de having proposed using their signature technology to print new elements for a rebuilt spire.

Most of the cathedral was saved, but the spire collapsed. Now architects and companies are looking at new options to rebuild
(Image via Reuters)

To demonstrate the potential of their idea, the company have already 3D printed a stone recreation of a gargoyle from the cathedral’s rooftop.

Led by architects Eric Geboers and Matteo Baldassari, the company claim they can use the original materials recovered from the site to reconstruct the spire in an authentic way that incorporates its own history.

“We saw the spire collapse and thought we could propose a way to combine the old materials with new technology to help speed up the reconstruction and make a cathedral that is not simply a copy of the original but rather a cathedral that would show its layered history proudly,” said Geboers.

The original Le Stryge gargoyle was added to the rooftop during Eugène Viollet-le-Duc's 19th century restoration of the cathedral
(Image via Dezeen)

The gargoyle they already printed is an accurate recreation of Le Stryge - a well known demon figure that sat on the cathedral’s roof. Using 3D scans which were already available on the Internet, they printed the figure from a mixture of limestone and ash - similar to the materials found after the fire. The team used a 30x30x30 centimetre Armadillo White printer.

“It’s a custom inkjet 3D printer that is fine tuned to work with stone and stone-like materials. It prints with 0.1 millimetre precision and the cool thing about these printers is that any geometry is possible without the need for supports. It also allows for significant material customisation.”

The new gargoyle was 3D printed from similar limestone and ash materials as the original structure by Dutch specialists Concr3de
(Image via Dezeen)

The company believe that if they were to reprint parts of the building, they could use some of the original material including limestone damaged by the fire.

“We would break down the limestone to the right grade and the fire damage would not have an effect,” explained Geboers.

“Isn’t a copy just a fake? Simply copying, pretending there never was a fire, would be a historical forgery.”

Concr3de say they can use the original materials from the remains of the spire to rebuild a new structure using their 3D printing method
(Image via Dezeen)

In addition to reusing some of the original materials, they say that the process will be significantly faster and cheaper than building an entirely new spire using other methods.

It’s thought by some experts that rebuilding the spire could take decades, despite President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to reconstruct it in just five years. Secretary general of Les Compagnons du Devoir - France’s manual trades organisation - warned that it would take years to hire and train the hundreds of stonecutters and masons that would be required to work on this project.

Geboers said that the 3D printing technique would resolve this labour issue, while still allowing existing stonemasons to be hired to fix the printed pieces into place. 

“It would most likely be cheaper to print the lost pieces than to cut new stone.”

An international competition could be held for architects to design a new spire for Notre Dame
(Image via Backgrid)

With various architects and companies currently developing ideas to rebuild the historic cathedral - including the potential for an international competition - this is just one option. But Geboers and Baldassari believe that their commitment to combining original materials with modern technology is the most respectful, authentic solution.

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Could Notre Dame's new spire be 3D printed? - Time to read 3 min
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