Four years ago, a thick cloud of smoke filled the Parisian sky. Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the world’s most iconic cathedrals and a symbol of the human spirit’s enduring quest for beauty, faith, and hope—was burning. On that night, eight centuries of French history went up in flames as Paris’s beloved cathedral was scarred by the fire.
About five hundred firefighters battled the blaze for hours. Parisians watched the event unfold before their eyes in a scene very similar to the one described by Victor Hugo more than 170 years ago: “All eyes were raised to the top of the church. They beheld there an extraordinary sight. On the crest of the highest gallery, higher than the central rose window, there was a great flame rising between the two towers with whirlwinds of sparks.”
But Parisians weren’t the only ones impacted by the Notre-Dame fire: emotion spread far beyond the borders of France, with individuals and companies alike—including Autodesk—rushing in with donations to help save the landmark.
Soon after, our CEO Andrew Anagnost recognized that a cash donation was not enough, and that Autodesk needed to play an integral role in saving the historic structure. As a French native who spent six years studying less than two blocks from the cathedral, I was eager to get involved. Two weeks following the fire, I went to Paris to assess the damage and identify opportunities for Autodesk to support the reconstruction. Visiting the cathedral that day was surreal – it was shocking and emotional to see the damage so up close after I’d spent years passing by as a student.
After that visit, I knew Autodesk was equipped and ready to help restore the cathedral to its former glory, sharing our expertise and technology to support the project. To start, we recruited reality-capture and digital-reconstruction firm AGP to create an incredibly detailed 3D digital model of the cathedral as it existed before the catastrophic event, using our software in combination with their data from earlier scans of Notre-Dame.
AGP combined this previous work with new laser scanning, photogrammetry, and drone footage after the fire to capture a complete view of the cathedral. Because of the complexity, structural details, and sheer size of Notre-Dame, it took Autodesk and AGP over a year to create the full-scale model. It is an unrivaled example of historical modeling using Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology.
BIM is the holistic process of creating and managing information for a built asset. Based on an intelligent model and enabled by a cloud platform, BIM integrates structured, multi-disciplinary data to produce a digital representation of an asset across its lifecycle, from planning and design to construction and operations.
Once finished, we donated the BIM model and our software to the public institution dedicated to the conservation and restoration of the cathedral (Établissement public Rebâtir Notre-Dame de Paris) to be used by the teams involved in the project. Through an official patronage, we are contributing design and construction solutions, including BIM, and technical expertise to enhance collaboration, clarity, and efficiency across the teams working on the reconstruction effort.
The president of the public institution Rebâtir Notre-Dame de Paris, Army General Jean-Louis Georgelin, shared how “using digital technologies designed for the supervision and management of the restoration site is essential for the public institution. Thanks to Autodesk’s patronage, the use of cutting-edge design and construction technologies and BIM, are being leveraged to help prepare for the reopening of the cathedral, and to once again welcome both pilgrims and visitors.”
One of the major stakeholders in the project is SETEC opency, the French engineering firm managing the planning and construction of the site. Leveraging the 3D model created with our BIM solutions, they were able to quickly understand the constraints of the site: “Having the 3D building information model significantly increased the accuracy and speed of the process, two necessary elements to reopen by the end of 2024. Autodesk’s technology has been crucial to the work we are doing to rebuild the damage caused by the fire, along with integrating new technical safety and comfort elements”, said Yvan Rouard, Director of the Building Division at SETEC opency.
Digital modeling plays a key role in restoring the Notre Dame cathedral. Read the story in Fast Company.
The restoration is not complete yet, and Autodesk will keep providing support to reopen the cathedral in 2024. Bringing together Autodesk employees from different teams and countries, this project is an example of our company ethos and shows how the use of BIM creates a historical digital record for increased resiliency for future events and restoration projects.
Ultimately, this is exactly the type of project that our software is designed to support in a quick and efficient way. I am incredibly proud to provide our technical expertise, combined with traditional design and modern workflow solutions, to help Notre-Dame stand once more.
To discover how Autodesk technologies are bringing Notre-Dame to life, click here.