From gripping people’s hearts at home on radio and television screens to opera and Broadway stages, to the big screen, our guest today has had many years of success. And it all started with a Gothic church built in the heart of Paris. Here to speak with us about his favorite building, Notre-Dame Cathedral, is Quasimodo.
MSB Architects: Thank you for joining us today for a chat. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to speak with you given all the closures lately.
Quasimodo: It is nice to speak with you and get a little outside contact. Though to be honest it took me quite a while to figure out that there was a quarantine to begin with! I don’t get out much, as you all know, so it was a bit of a shock when I finally realized why no one was visiting the cathedral.
MSB: Most readers will know you from your motion pictures, and some of the most iconic scenes happen with you climbing the exterior of the building. I can only imagine that scaling such a tall building and ringing 13 tonne bells requires quite a bit of work.
Qm: Being here for so long has definitely honed those skills and I don’t really have to think about it anymore. But it has been interesting given that the cathedral is in the Gothic style. Like a lot of architectural styles, its main goals were to go as tall as possible and have as many windows as possible. So you get these huge facades which have equally massive windows which can be tricky to climb, luckily for me both the windows and the building are covered in ornamentation which helps give me something to hold on to.
MSB: You mentioned the ornamentation of the cathedral. Do you have a favorite window, carving, statue? Some detail that you love?
Qm: Well, of course everyone loves the rose windows with their intricate tracery and the flying buttresses. The gargoyles, chimera, and Strix are very popular as well. And the intricately carved front portals are a big focus for many visitors. But what I really love is the hidden structure and meaning of all these things.
MSB: What do you mean by the hidden meaning? Are there secret messages in the stones? Do the gargoyles spell something out?
Qm: [Laughing] No, no nothing like that! It’s just that, again, the cathedral follows Gothic design principles so that means everything has a purpose. For instance, the carvings around the front portals tell stories of the church but they also tell a structural story. The portals themselves are a pointed arch. While the pointed arch shows up in Indian and Islamic architecture well before the 10th century, Gothic architects really began to play up its structural abilities, taking things to extreme heights.
MSB: Looking at the building you can see that pointed arch shape repeated in many locations, is there hidden structure in those places as well?
Qm: Yes actually. In the nave the ceiling is a six-part rib vault, this transfers the weight of the roof down to specialized piers and the buttresses. These flying buttresses also utilize the pointed arch shape and are used to support the relatively thin walls of the cathedral while allowing an unprecedented number of windows. All these elements come together to create a monumental interior experience that is surprisingly open and filled with light.
MSB: So you’ve told us about the Gothic style of the cathedral, where previous styles not as grand?
Qm: Not at all, previous styles were grand structures as well. Gothic architecture is actually one of three subdivisions of Medieval architecture, the other styles were marked by thick walls, round arches, and large heavy pillars supporting the roof. Gothic architects took the general shapes and spatial relationships but then said, “But I want it taller and thinner with more light!” This desire to escape the heaviness of the Romanesque styles is what prompted the structural innovation of the pointed arch, rib vaults, and flying buttresses.
MSB: Unfortunately we can’t avoid asking about the fire. Where were you when it happened? How did you react?
Qm: Oh, I was devastated. The cathedral has been my home for so long now to see it damaged is heartbreaking. I was not in Paris at the time, getting some time away from the restoration work and when I saw it on the news I couldn’t look away. But the church has been damaged before and has come back so I have every reason to believe the reconstruction will leave Notre Dame a beautiful destination once again.
MSB: What did you think about the design competition for the new roof? Did you like any of the schemes?
Qm: Those were wonderful! There were some truly amazing ideas, even if some of the entries were pretty wild. And while I will be selfishly glad to see the cathedral whole and its old self again, part of me wouldn’t have minded adding a lap pool on the roof!
MSB: Well thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today and enlightening us on Gothic architecture. We hope the reconstruction continues to go smoothly and we see Notre Dame open again soon.
Qm: Thank you for having me on to speak with you.