September 14, 2022
students and workers raising the truss

Philippe Villeneuve and Rémi Fromont, chief architects overseeing the restoration of the historic Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris following a massive fire in April 2019, will make their first U.S. visit since the restoration to The Catholic University of America on Sept. 26.

The visit comes as the cathedral restoration is moving from clean-up into a rebuilding phase, and one year after faculty and staff from the University’s School of Architecture and Planning, the nonprofit Handshouse Studio, and other volunteers hand built and raised a full-size, 45-foot by 35-foot replica of one of the Cathedral’s choir trusses (roof supports) on the University Mall.

"By recreating one truss the students opened a window into the diverse skills of the medieval master builder and the vast effort required by a community to make an idea tangible. Through a tactile experience with tools and materials and their close collaboration with experts, they came to know a fundamental part of the architect's role today," said Mark Ferguson, dean for the School of Architecture and Planning.

Architecture students involved in the project learned the architecture and building methods of the French Gothic church and medieval timber framing techniques, built 1:10 scale models of the trusses over the church’s choir, and explored French protocol passed down from the Middle Ages for timber harvesting, fabricating, assembly, tools, and raising techniques.

The University, through the Friends of Notre-Dame, invited the Cathedral’s architects to visit. Tonya Ohnstad, assistant professor and associate dean for graduate students, architecture, said, “We are incredibly honored that the University will be their first stop in the United States.”

Ohnstad led the University’s participation in the truss construction last year and is serving as the visit coordinator.

Students, alumni, faculty, staff, and other volunteers are encouraged to sign up to join the architects and University President Dr. Peter Kilpatrick in raising the truss on Sept. 26, which is part of the "Notre-Dame de Paris Truss Project, a Handshouse Studio: Making/History Project,” and to attend the other events that day on campus and at the National Building Museum.

The truss raising will take place from 9-10:30 a.m., with the actual raising most likely to occur around 9:30 a.m., on University Mall east of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Volunteers pulling on the ropes will need to sign a waiver.

Following the truss raising, the architects, students, and creators of the Notre-Dame de Paris Truss Project will participate in a panel discussion, “A Conversation: Restoration and Renovation,” from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., in the Koubek Auditorium of the Crough Center for Architectural Studies.

Also at the Crough Center will be an exhibition, “(re)CONSTRUCTION: The Joinery and Craft of Notre-Dame de Paris Part II,” that features student-designed replicas of Notre Dame Cathedral and of some of the building’s elements, including flying buttresses. Handshouse Studio is loaning a model of the east end of La Foret (“The Forest,” the cathedral’s wooden roof framework) for the exhibit that week.

Villeneuve and Fromont will deliver their first public lecture in the United States, “Notre-Dame de Paris: Rebuilding a Legacy,” at 6 p.m., at the National Building Museum, located at the Judiciary Square Metro stop. The lecture is co-sponsored with Catholic University.

The lecture is free for members of the Catholic University community. Catholic University students, faculty, staff should register here (choose the “student ticket” option). Alumni planning to attend should email their names to (subject line: 9.26 Notre-Dame Lecture) to be included in the complimentary ticket list.

“We hope as many people on campus who can join us in learning more about the restoration of this historic and sacred space,” said Ohnstad.

The University is grateful to Trevor Resurreccion, B.S. 2001, for his support of the raising of the truss. 

Logo for the Notre-Dame de Paris Truss Project