National Geographic published an extraordinary look at Notre Dame cathedral reconstruction, two years after the fire which destroyed the historic building.

This feature features incredible 3D graphics, which detail the restoration plans and interviews with architects and team members behind the reconstruction. PetaPixel is told by National Geographic that it is the only foreign media outlet that has had such high-level access to the rebuilding of the Notre Dame cathedral.

Photographed using multiple photography disciplines

Notre Dame Rises Again

Thomas Van Houtryve, National Geographic’s photographer for the reconstruction, was the only one who took a 19th century wooden camera and a portable darkroom to the cathedral. He also made images on glass plates. He created a series images of Notre Dame using a variety of techniques, including traditional photo reportage, 19-century wet plate portraiture and drone videography.

Here are two photos of his wet plates:

Notre Dame Rises Again
Like Viollet-le-Duc’s spire, taller and more ornate than the medieval original, his addition of the chimeras reflected his ambition: not just to restore Notre Dame as it had been but to create the ideal Gothic cathedral. | Tomas Van Houtryve/National Geographic
Notre Dame Rises Again
Notre Dame always had gargoyle rainspouts, but its purely decorative grotesques sprang from the 19th-century imagination of Violletle-Duc. He added 54 to the upper gallery encircling the towers on the west facade. | Tomas Van Houtryve/National Geographic

Robert Kunzig, Senior Environment Editor, wrote the entire story. He and Van Houtryve spent over a month reporting from the cathedral. They were all covered with special suits, including respirators, from head to toe.

Notre Dame Rises Again

In the aftermath of the fire, some wanted Notre Dame to be reborn with a new look, a contemporary one that would put the stamp of our age—and of the fire itself—on the cathedral. Others, those closest to the monument, just wanted it made whole again. The fire “was an accident,” conservator Marie-Hélène Didier says. “You forget. You try to forget.” | Tomas Van Houtryve/National Geographic

The Efforts to a Historically Accurate Restore

Kunzig reports that architects, preservationists, and other experts spent a year and a quarter investigating the best ways to save the cathedral from the April 2019 fire. Modern machinery can help, but traditional methods, materials, and hand finishes will ensure that the final result matches the original state. The restoration will start with the spire and move on to the roof, vaults, and the final goal is 2024.

Notre Dame Rises Again
Wearing respirators to shield themselves from lead dust, rope technicians prepare to use plaster to secure loose stones in the vaults along the central hole left by the spire. The fire, which got as hot as 1400°F, ate into the tops of some vaults and into the two-foot-thick limestone walls above them, peeling off inches of stone and creating internal fissures. Some stones will need to be replaced. | Tomas Van Houtryve/National Geographic
Notre Dame Rises Again
By 2024, if all goes according to plan, a drone in this position would be hovering just above the tip of Notre Dame’s new spire—a faithful reproduction in oak and lead of the one built by Violletle-Duc, which was destroyed in the fire. The new spire will be erected piece by piece through the hole in the stone vaulting left by the old one. Meanwhile, white canopies block the rain. | Tomas Van Houtryve/National Geographic

Viollet–le-Duc, Viollet-le–Duc’s original architect, has left the church as it is. Partly using medieval hand tools, they are rebuilding the oak roof support framework. Even though the fire destroyed the old roof, they are rebuilding one of lead.

Notre Dame Rises Again

Four days before the fire, statues of the Apostles fortunately were removed from the spire and shipped to Socra, a restoration company in Périgueux. The copper cladding was as thin as cigarette paper in some spots, says metal specialist Olivier Baumgartner (working here on St. Matthew). He and his colleagues avoided making the cladding too smooth: “It must exude authenticity.” | Tomas Van Houtryve/National Geographic

The restored building will include the copper statues of apostles, which were taken from the spire to be restored just days before the fire. Also the copper rooster at the top of spire that miraculously survived the incident. It will be also returned to its original location after the fire and subsequent collapse of this structure.