The Architect’s Worst Nightmare Realized

The architect’s worst nightmare realized, believe it or not, has nothing to do with The Fountainhead constantly being brought up to them as a means to relate, but rather, the funeral pyre of a precious emblem of human promise as only two hundred years of construction could convey. Anne-Sophie L’Accumule had studied those centuries that it took to create the final product of Notre-Dame de Paris. Her zeal for the edifice had nothing to do with Victor Hugo, though she was constantly at war with his statement, “Certainly there is matter here for many large volumes, and often the universal history of humanity in the successive engrafting of many arts at many levels, upon the same monument. The man, the artist, the individual, is effaced in these great masses, which lack the name of their author; human intelligence is there summed up and totalized. Time is the architect, the nation is the builder.” The nation is the builder. This pleased and vexed her at the same time. Offered her comfort in the capability of humanity, but made her balk at her own impotence as an individual. She knew that much of her profession was a collaborative process, as opposed to a singularly executed one involving a lot of floor plans and riches as the movies liked to convey. Yet she wanted to create something on her own that could make people weep as Notre-Dame did.

It was, in fact, her eventual boyfriend she would find weeping inside, beneath the rib vaults of the nave, alternating between looking upward and hanging his head. As she got to talking to him, asking him if he was all right, she learned that John was a student of architecture at Pratt Institute School of Architecture and had decided to come to Paris for the summer. It was his first time, and only hours off the plane, he came to Notre-Dame, said it was his lifelong dream to see it. Anne-Sophie probably knew right then that she loved him. Or loved him as much as a rational egoist could. They continued to explore the church together, she doing most of the talking and he soaking up everything she said. She was in her last year of school at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts (she wasn’t about to go to École nationale supérieure de Paris-Belleville just because it was “edgier”–she was an aestheticist, after all). John seemed impressed by this and asked if she wouldn’t mind showing him some of her designs. So it was that their summer romance was struck up under the auspices of that bastion of French Gothic architecture, starting as a fling, continuing as a long-distance relationship and then culminating in John moving into her small flat in the sixth arrodissement (still an adequate enough walking distance to Notre-Dame). He might have even persuaded her to get married for the benefit of his citizenship, but ended up getting a work visa in the nick of time. For Anne-Sophie didn’t really want to tie herself to him in that way. Not because she wasn’t fond of him but because she knew the shackles of marriage were just as binding on a literal level as they were a figurative one. She knew, in short, that a piece of paper really could change everything. Just as that missive his workplace gave for a visa did.

And while John began his new job, Anne-Sophie still struggled to find steady employment. Her “style” was commended at most places, but deemed “unsuitable” “in practice.” Visionless cochons all, she thought. John agreed with her, encouraging her to “stay the course,” remain committed to her convictions as opposed to employing the more utilitarian ones he was forced to do, relegated to a team strictly responsible for the bathroom’s construction. Oh how he loathed the specificity of his trade sometimes. He spewed as much to Anne-Sophie as they walked once more past the flying buttresses at the front of the church, throwing a cursory glance to the Last Judgment depiction taking up the entire entrance and making their way to the garden at the back of the building to sit on one of the benches. Notre-Dame was so integral to both of them at this point that there was no need to remark upon its majesty and mysticism. Its near pyramid-like construction (at least in terms of the marvel of human accomplishment when endless resources of money and slave labor combined).

It was only a week after this visit that the fire would break out, seeming to mirror the tension that had been mounting between Anne-Sophie and John as they made digs at each other for varying reasons of frustration. Anne-Sophie couldn’t seem to remove her bitterness about John’s success in her country, while John admired that Anne-Sophie had refused to sell out as he was forced to. He yearned to further work on an idea for a modernized version of the apse that Notre-Dame had naturally inspired. Anne-Sophie was the one to message him while he was at work to tell him of the disaster. She had seen the plumes of smoke rising in the air above the Luxembourg Gardens just as the news blast on her phone clinically announced, “Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral is on fire.” She felt as though her heart stopped for a split second before she told John, asked him if he had heard. Buried in his work, of course he hadn’t. He left the office without bothering to tell anyone, rushing to meet with Anne-Sophie in the gardens. They walked together toward the river, getting as close as they could to see how the fate of the cathedral might play out. The Île de la Cité had been evacuated and cordoned off, but they could still see all they needed to from their vantage point on the bridge. It was like watching a part of themselves–the identities so rooted in this structure and what it meant–crumble as well.

A purer, less corrupt emblem of Catholicism than the Vatican, there was something that exuded the unbridled existence of sheer evil in this world as one watched the overhead view of the cross-shaped ceiling blaze with the same rages of hell. And there, overseas, you had the American president offering “helpful” suggestions one would expect to come from the dim mind of the Hunchback himself.

As the spire collapsed, a plume of smoke more massive than the others rose up anew, invigorated, as though orgasming over the destruction. Maybe the shocking number of people (ahem, American tourists) who pronounced it “Notur Dayme” finally sent the building over the edge, and it just had to go up into flames to get people to show it some goddamn respect again. Anne-Sophie and John remained watching for about hour before somberly returning home.

Despite assurances to rebuild and offerings of donations from French millionaires to help with that reconstruction, John knew the integrity would never be reestablished. Anne-Sophie, surprisingly, was the more optimistic of the two of them, reminding him of how many ills the church had suffered and overcome in the past. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, she emphasized to him, had been written during a time of the cathedral’s neglect and disrepair, and ominously predicted, “The church will, perhaps, itself soon disappear from the face of the earth.” On an ordinary evening in mid-April, it essentially did. Yet Anne-Sophie couldn’t help but drum her fingers together when she heard Macron mention they would be enlisting the best of the best architects to help build it back up again. 

The architect’s worst nightmare realized, believe it or not, is becoming as ruthless as Howard Roark. Watching the flames of Notre-Dame fan out at the same time as she stabbed John in the back by deciding to present his ideas for the apse as her own upon getting an interview to be hired for the restoration.

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