Architectural Analysis of the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris

Notre Dame of Paris is a great building feat for the Early Gothic era. Completed in the year 1250, new architectural advances of the gothic style allowed builders to construct it at such a massive scale. Notre Dame stands nearly one hundred and ten feet in height, 402 feet in length, and its dimensions were larger than any Gothic church built prior to it. The intention to construct the tallest cathedral in the world can be traced to the foundation, which the builders prepared with 30 foot deep footings of precisely cut hard stone. Architect Maurice de Sully, Bishop of Paris from 1100 to his death in 1196, had the political power and resources to build the cathedral of such sheer size. Notre Dame had access to tax money, and controlled more than half the land on the Ile-de-la-Cit©, where Notre Dame stands today. Maurice-de-Sully began construction in 1163, and Notre Dame was almost complete at his death. Bishop Eudes-de-Sully and the next four successors completed the fa§ade. Changes in architects are evident, because Notre Dame has slight stylistic variations and is not perfectly symmetrical. In 1225, the clerestory windows were enlarged, and in the 1230’s chapels were inserted between the exterior buttresses. The French Revolution caused significant damage Notre Dame, with the removal of the spire, the destruction of 28 statues from the Gallery of Kings, and the destruction of all but one major portal statue. In the 19th century, two architects, Eugene Viollet-le-Du and Jean-Baptiste Lassus directed an extensive restoration project, which repaired this damage.

The Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris utilized recent architectural advancements, and therefore the builders took a risk in applying them to Cathedral, because they had not yet been tested over time. Notre Dame is the first of its kind to be constructed with flying buttresses, which support the thin exterior walls. The flying buttresses were not part of the original design, but were a response to the increased outward thrust on the exterior walls by the shear height and weight of the cathedral. The flying buttresses were constructed a whole century later after the central Cathedral of Notre Dame. Ribbed vaults in the double aisles surround the choir. At the time, the ribbed vaults were a new advancement in architecture

Surrounding buildings restricted Notre Dame’s site on the Ile-de-la-Cite. There is a misalignment between the choir and the nave. This may be due to the potential collision with structures, which surrounded Notre Dame on every side as well as its location on a water-locked island. Instead of a cross shape, the plan of Notre Dame actually reveals that it forms a horseshoe, a response to the restricted space where Notre Dame could be constructed. Notre Dame contains numerous irregularities, formed by the progression of different architects as well as responses to problems during construction. The building design is a single massing of an irregular shape. From the exterior, the plan appears to be a cross shape, which is a horizontal feature. The vertical features are the spire at the crossing and the twin bell towers on the western fa§ade. The interior space actually reveals that the plan is a horseshoe shape, not a cross. Thus, the primary line of symmetry runs from the western fa§ade through the nave. The procession is through the two aisles and the nave, where its interior height dwarfs human scale. Because gothic cathedrals were designed to have more window space and thinner walls than Romanesque cathedrals, the flying buttresses are structurally necessary. To fill the immense interior space with natural light, Notre Dame of Paris was designed with large clerestory windows and rose windows.

Maurice de Sully constructed the Notre Dame of Paris on the Isle-de-la-Cit©, the center of Paris. The shear height of the Cathedral symbolically reached towards the heavens. Notre Dame was intended to tower above the low roofs of medieval Paris with the cross shape clearly visible. Notre Dame was oriented like a compass, with each cardinal direction symbolizing an aspect of medieval Christian faith. The rising sun symbolized life, while the setting sun symbolized death. Thus the western facade displayed routes to heaven and hell. The Notre Dame of Paris, with its grandeur, overtook world architecture of its era.