Pools, Carparks and Ball-pits: Or why the Notre Dame restoration competition is a meme

  • Hamish Lonergan

Abstract

The first restoration proposals to emerge after fire destroyed Notre Dame Cathedral’s roof and spire were jokes. The more serious schemes that followed Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s announcement of a competition – many markedly similar, recreating what was lost in glass– were collected on mainstream design media websites like Dezeen where they attracted an unusually high volume of angry comments, accusing the architects of insensitivity. Soon after, Ulf Mejergren Architects’ proposal to replace Notre Dame’s roof with a meditative pool was edited into a carpark. It sparked a series of increasingly outlandish edits – first a multi-story carpark, then a ball pit – before the French Senate declared that there would be no competition after all. This at times absurd online interest might be new for architectural competitions, but it is easily explained through meme theory, as conceived of by scholars like Limor Shifman and Ryan Milner: systems of interconnected units of cultural exchange operating on both wider cultural and specific sub-cultural levels. In this essay I contend that meme theory can be used, in reverse, to analyse reactions to, and similarities between, even the most serious Notre Dame proposals. In applying this framework, we can begin to understand how competitions operate more broadly as part of a complex network online and how they relate to traditional competition conditions.  

References

“The Pompidolium.” The Architectural Review (Archive: 1896-2005) 161, no. 693 (1977): 270-272.

Andrejevic, Mark and Jj I. V. Sylvia. “The Future of Critique: Mark Andrejevic on Power/Knowledge and the Big Data-Driven Decline of Symbolic Efficiency.” International Journal of Communication 10 (2016): 3230–3240.

Aureli, Pier Vittorio. “Can Architecture Be Political?” Lecture at The Architectural Association, London, December 6, 2014.

Chakrabortty, Aditya. ‘The lesson from the ruins of Notre Dame: don’t rely on billionaires.’ The Guardian July 18, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/18/ruins-notre-dame-billionaires-french-philanthropy.

Crossman, Camille. “Jury boards as ‘risk managers’: Analysing jury deliberations within architectural competitions against the background of risk management.” Architecture Competition: Project Design and the Building Process edited by Ignaz Strebel and Jan Silberberger, 117-130. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

Deamer, Peggy. “The Guggenheim Helsinki Competition: What Is the Value Proposition?" The Avery Review 8 (2015).

Errazuriz, Sebastian. “This little piece.” @sebastianstudio, Instagram, May 17, 2019.

Gage, Mark Foster. “Killing Simplicity: Object-Oriented Philosophy in Architecture.” Log, no. 33 (2015): 95-106.

Gottschling, Paul. “Where Design Competitions Matter: Architectural Artefacts and Discursive Events.” Journal of Material Culture 23, no. 2 (2018): 151-168.

Grau, Urtzi and Cristina Goberna. “What Kinds of Copies?” Log, no. 31 (2014): 139-142.

Henley, Jon. “France announces contest to redesign Notre Dame spire.” The Guardian April 18, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/global/2019/apr/17/france-announces-architecture-competition-rebuild-notre-dames-spire.

Holden, Susan. “Megastructures and Monuments: The Dilemma of Finding a ‘Permanent Image of Change’ in the Plateau Beaubourg Competition, 1970-71.” Fabrications 21, no. 2 (2012): 83-112.

James, Liam. “Notre Dame design competition seeks new roof for world famous Paris cathedral.” The Independent, 21 June, 2019. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/notre-dame-cathedral-roof-fire-design-competition-paris-france-a8968791.html.

Kovacs, Andrew. “Archive of Affinities Making Architecture from Architecture.” Architectural Design 89, no. 4 (2019): 54-61.

Leach, Neil. “The Culture of the Copy.” Architectural Design 86, no. 5 (2016): 126-133.

Leavitt, Derreck. “Why Open Competitions Are Bad for Architects.” Modative Blog, May 18, 2010. http://www.modative.com/modern-architects-blog/bid/31683/Why-Open-Architecture-Competitions-Are-Bad-for-Architects.

Lipstadt, Helene and Bergdoll, Barry. The Experimental Tradition: Essays on Competitions in Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1989.

Lipstadt, Helene. “Experimenting with the Experimental Tradition, 1989-2009: On Competitions and Architecture Research.” Nordic Journal of Architectural Research 21, no. 2/3 (2009): 9-22.

Lipstadt, Helene. “Preface.” Competition Grid : Experimenting with and Within Architecture Competitions, edited by Maria Theodorou, and Antigoni Katsakou, xix-xxi. London: RIBA Publications, 2018.

Milner, Ryan. The World Made Meme: Public Conversations and Participatory Media. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2016.

Nossiter, Adam. “In Aftermath of Notre-Dame Fire, Macron Urges Unity in Fragmented Nation.” The New York Times 16 April, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/world/europe/notre-dame-fire-investigation.html.

Ravenscroft, Tom. “Notre-Dame must be restored to ‘last known visual state’ says French Senate.” Dezeen, 29 May, 2019. https://www.dezeen.com/2019/05/29/restore-notre-dame-cathedral-french-senate/.

Ravenscroft, Tom. “Seven alternative spires for Notre-Dame Cathedral.” Dezeen, 25 April, 2019. https://www.dezeen.com/2019/04/25/notre-dame-spire-alternative-cathedral-designs/.

Ravenscroft, Tom. “Seven of the most outrageous proposals for Notre-Dame.” Dezeen, 15 May, 2019. https://www.dezeen.com/2019/05/15/notre-dame-rebuild-outrageous-proposals/.

Shifman, Limor. Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2013.

Stead, Naomi. “The Brisbane Effect: GOMA and the Architectural Competition for a New Institutional Building,” in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand 32, edited by Paul Hogben and Judith O’Callaghan, 627-639. Sydney: SAHANZ, 2015.

Strebel, Ignaz and Jan Silberberger, “Introduction: Unpacking Architectural Competitions – Project Design and the Building Process.” In Architecture Competition : Project Design and the Building Process, edited by Ignaz Strebel and Jan Silberberger, 1-27. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017. ¬¬¬

Taller de Casquería. “Guggenheim Helsinki//Architectural Competition Data.” Online Video, October 2014. https://vimeo.com/109085572.

Tostrup, Elisabeth. “On Competition Rhetoric and Contemporary Trends.” Competition Grid: Experimenting with and Within Architecture Competitions, edited by Maria Theodorou, and Antigoni Katsakou, 23-34. London: RIBA Publications, 2018.

UMA. Notre Dame. https://www.u-m-a.se/filter/Featured/NOTRE-DAME.

Vaičiulaitytė, Giedrė. ‘9 Ridiculous Proposals For The Notre Dame Restoration.’ BoredPanda. https://www.boredpanda.com/notre-dame-cathedral-outrageous-redesign-proposals/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic.

Varlese, Linda. “Massimiliano Fuksas: ‘Immagino un pinnacolo di cristallo di Baccarat per la nuova Notre Dame’.” Huffpost, 16th April, 2019. https://www.huffingtonpost.it/2019/04/16/massimiliano-fuksas-immagino-un-pinnacolo-di-cristallo-di-baccarat-per-la-nuova-notre-dame_a_23712564/.

Wickenden, Dorothy. “The Notre-Dame Fire Could Be a Turning Point for the Macron Presidency.” The New Yorker, April 18, 2019. https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/political-scene/the-notre-dame-fire-could-be-a-turning-point-for-the-macron-presidency.

Author Biography

Hamish Lonergan

Hamish Lonergan is an Australian architect and PhD candidate in the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta), ETH Zurich, as part of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action project ‘TACK / Communities of Tacit Knowledge: Architecture and its Ways of Knowing’. His research ­– on issues of taste and power in architectural education, history, practice and media on- and offline ­– has been presented at international conferences and appeared in journals including Inflections. Previously, he co-curated the exhibition Bathroom Gossip (2019) and worked at COX Architecture on the design and delivery of cultural projects across Australia. 

How to Cite
LONERGAN, Hamish. Pools, Carparks and Ball-pits. FOOTPRINT, [S.l.], v. 14, n. 1, p. 125-136, july 2020. ISSN 1875-1490. Available at: <https://journals.open.tudelft.nl/footprint/article/view/4301>. Date accessed: 13 aug. 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.7480/footprint.14.1.4301.
Published
2020-07-16