Chinese Architects Win the Notre-Dame Cathedral Design Contest With Breathtaking Concept

Notre Dame

United States publishing company GoArchitect has announced Zeyu Cai and Sibei Li as the winners of “The People’s Notre-Dame Cathedral Design Competition”, where many artists and architects shared their vision for the future of the historic cathedral.

The winning design, “Paris Heartbeat.” Image via GoArchitect

Zeyu Cai, from Hangzhou and Sibei Li from Beijing, China were crowned winners of the competition for their unique design which involves three parts. Their design holds a crystal roof, a spire tip, and a main spire with a city kaleidoscope.

Cai, who graduated from Tsinhua University before moving to the U.S. for his one-year graduate program at Cornell University, said he still remembers the tragic day when the Notre-Dame Cathedral caught fire in April.


“The mixed feeling of shock, sadness and regret emerged in our mind,” Cai told GoArchitect. “I visited Notre Dame twice, once in my childhood before my architecture education, and another time during my internship in Europe.”

Li, who went to Beijing University of Technology before attending Cornell University, visited the cathedral during her voluntary work in Europe. Both Cai and Li are residing in Chicago and working at an architectural firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM).

Cai noted that even though both him and Li visited the cathedral at two different points in time, that they shared similar feelings towards the historical structure.

“We believe that is the power of Notre Dame,” he said, adding, “We truly appreciate the proportion, materiality, light and space in a professional approach.”

“We were also impressed by the grandness, beauty, and the peaceful atmosphere that Notre Dame creates, and how this power overwhelms people’s hearts,” Cai continued.

The cathedral was built in 1345 in Paris and Cai believes that its architecture legacy should be known to the rest of the world.

“Notre Dame is a witness to human history for over 800 years. It burns, it survives, and it co-breathes with the ever-changing world,” he said. “Every time the disaster left its impression upon Notre Dame and that became an indelible part of its history.”

Cai and Li now want to contribute their ideas to the restoration of the cathedral.

“Visualization of the Notre Dame’s nirvana by architecture language is the best way to show our great respect for the past of Notre Dame and best wishes to its future,” he said. “That is why we decided to participate in this competition without a second thought.”

Image via GoArchitect

Cai explained that the proposal, named Paris Heartbeat, will consist of three parts: “a crystal roof as a mirror to reflect historical urban context, a spire’s tip as a time capsule to retrospect the history, and the main spire as a city kaleidoscope to celebrate the vision of a cityscape.”

Image via GoArchitect

The time capsule floating at top of the spire’s tip is designed to open every half century, using high-tech magnetic levitation. The spire’s tip, symbolizing the Paris heartbeat, moves rhythmically up and down as if beating together with the city.

“The spire’s tip, symbolizing the Paris heartbeat, moves rhythmically up and down breathing and beating together with the city,” Cai said.

Image via GoArchitect

Cai and Li will both share the $1,000 prize money from the competition.

Unfortunately, the duo’s proposal, as well as 226 other participant’s from 56 other countries, may never see the light of day as the French parliament has already passed a law that would ensure the reconstruction of the Notre-Dame Cathedral with its original design, according to South China Morning Post.

However, Joshua Sanabaria, chief executive of GoArchitect, hopes that the recent competition would help convince French politicians to to rethink their decision.

“It would be a terrible loss to the democracy of design if the French senate closes the door to the debate and exploration of the future of Notre Dame,” he said. “We have all been inspired by Notre Dame because it was a cathedral for the people, and its future should be influenced by the people.”

Featured image via Instagram / goarchitect

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