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France launches architectural competition to replace Notre Dame spire

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Christian Fernsby |
Notre Dame Paris
Europe   Notre Dame Cathedral

The French government has launched an international architectural competition aimed at rebuilding a spire on Notre Dame Cathedral.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who announced the competition after a cabinet meeting, said the new spire would not necessarily be an exact replica of the one that disappeared.

The idea was to give “Notre-Dame a spire adapted to techniques and challenges of our times," he said. He added the restoration was "a huge challenge, a historic responsibility" that would "allow us to ask the question of whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc," the architect who restored the cathedral in 1859 and added the spire.

Philippe said it was now possible to "endow Notre-Dame with a new spire."

The metal rooster that sat atop the collapsed spire was found by a worker sifting through the rubble of the Gothic masterpiece on Tuesday.

“Incredible! One of the members of the @GMHistoriques found the rooster of the top of the spire of Notre Dame in the rubble,” tweeted Jacques Chanut, president of the French Builders' Federation.

President Emmanuel Macron had said he wanted the cathedral to be fully restored within five years and Philippe added the government would present a bill next week to set the framework for the restoration with guarantees of transparency so that "every euro paid for reconstruction serves for that purpose and not for anything else."

As of Wednesday, a growing list of companies and business leaders had pledged more than $790 million to help rebuild Notre Dame after the devastating blaze ripped through its roof and destroyed the spire.

There is no clear notion of what the reconstruction work could cost, but the proposed government bill was to modify the rules governing the taxation of donations so the individuals who contribute up to 1,000 euros will benefit from a 75 percent tax exemption, instead of 66 percent, Philippe said.

A controversy over tax exemptions emerged after some of the renowned French fortunes and multinational companies made pledges just hours after the fire was doused.

Philippe said he was happy that wealthy people and companies "want to participate in the reconstruction of a structure that is not just a building," as the emotions generated by the fire had demonstrated.

The prime minister acknowledged that the five-year term set by Macron on Tuesday for reconstruction was “a huge challenge,” adding he thought it was "healthy to set ourselves ambitious goals."

The cathedral looked set to be closed for five to six years after Monday's devastating fire, its rector, Bishop Patrick Chauvet, said.

The cleric said "a segment of the cathedral has been very weakened" after the blaze sent the 90-meter (300 foot) spire crashing through its famous ceiling and left the building close to total destruction.

To date, companies such as BNP, France's largest listed bank by assets, pledged 20 million euros ($22.6 million) toward the reconstruction and Societe Generale, another French bank, said it would donate EUR10 million, joining an outpouring.

Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of luxury-goods titan LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said his family and the luxury-goods company that it controls will donate EUR200 million, while Kering Chief Executive Francois-Henri Pinault said his family, which controls the LVMH rival, will donate EUR100 million to the effort.

"Faced with this tragedy, everyone wishes to give life back to this jewel of our heritage as soon as possible," Pinault said.

Cosmetics giant L'Oreal, together with the Bettencourt family, and energy major Total joined the big-ticket donors' list, pledging EUR100 million each.

Jean-Jacques Aillagon, who served as France's minister for culture and communication between 2002 and 2004, called on Monday for the Notre Dame Cathedral to be declared a national treasure, which would make donations toward it 90 percent tax-exempt under a law passed during his time as culture minister.


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