How 3D Modelling is Helping the Restoration of Notre-Dame in Paris

How is 3D modelling aiding in the restoration of Notre-Dame in Paris

The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, one of the world’s most iconic and culturally significant landmarks, suffered a devastating fire on April 15, 2019.

The inferno destroyed the wooden roof, the cathedral’s spire, and much of its priceless artwork and relics. While the cathedral’s stone structure remained mostly intact, the extensive damage required a massive restoration effort. To aid in this monumental task, 3D modelling technology has played a vital role in capturing the essence of Notre-Dame and assisting in its accurate and respectful restoration. This paper will explore the various ways in which 3D modelling has contributed to the restoration of Notre-Dame, from capturing its pre-fire state to creating precise plans for reconstruction.

Digitizing Notre-Dame: Creating a 3D Model of the Cathedral Before the Fire

The first step in utilizing 3D modelling to aid in Notre-Dame’s restoration was the creation of an accurate digital representation of the cathedral before the fire. Fortunately, a team led by the late art historian Andrew Tallon had already created an incredibly detailed 3D model of Notre-Dame using laser scanning technology. This model captures the entire structure, including its intricate architectural details, with sub-centimeter accuracy.

The laser scanning process involved taking millions of individual measurements using a technique called Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR).

LiDAR works by sending out laser pulses that bounce off surfaces and return to the scanner, which measures the time it takes for the pulse to make its round trip. By compiling these measurements, the scanner can create a highly accurate 3D point cloud of the structure.

Tallon’s 3D model not only provided an invaluable resource for the reconstruction efforts, but it also allowed researchers and architects to study the cathedral’s history, architecture, and construction techniques in unprecedented detail.

Assessing Damage and Planning Reconstruction

After the fire, experts needed to assess the extent of the damage and determine the best approach to restoring Notre-Dame. Using the existing 3D model, architects and engineers could analyze the structure and identify which areas had been most affected. This information was crucial for planning the restoration, ensuring that resources were allocated effectively, and creating a timeline for the project.

Additionally, the 3D model allowed experts to simulate various reconstruction scenarios and analyze the impact on the overall structure. This helped architects make informed decisions about the restoration process, prioritizing structural stability while maintaining the cathedral’s historical integrity.

Fabricating Replacement Components

One of the most significant challenges in restoring Notre-Dame was the need to recreate many of the cathedral’s intricate and delicate components that had been destroyed in the fire. Traditional methods of creating these components can be time-consuming and require highly skilled artisans.

However, 3D modelling and additive manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing) have allowed for the efficient and precise fabrication of replacement parts.

Using the digital model of the cathedral, experts were able to extract detailed 3D models of individual components, such as the spire, roof trusses, and intricate stone carvings. These models were then used to create detailed fabrication plans, ensuring that each component was reproduced faithfully.

Additive manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing in metal, stone, or other materials, allowed for the efficient production of these components. By using 3D modelling and additive manufacturing, the restoration team was able to save time and resources while ensuring the highest level of accuracy and detail.

Monitoring Structural Stability During Restoration

Another critical aspect of Notre-Dame’s restoration was the ongoing monitoring of the cathedral’s structural stability. The fire had weakened several key structural elements, and the restoration efforts themselves could potentially cause further damage if not carefully managed. 3D modelling played a crucial role in addressing these concerns by providing a means to continuously monitor the structure throughout the restoration process.

Using LiDAR and photogrammetry techniques, experts could create updated 3D models of the cathedral at various stages of the restoration work. By comparing these updated models with the original pre-fire model, engineers and architects could identify any changes or potential issues in real-time. This allowed them to take proactive measures to address structural concerns and minimize the risk of further damage.

Moreover, the 3D models were also used to create digital twins of the cathedral, which are virtual representations that can simulate the behavior of the structure under various conditions. By analyzing these digital twins, engineers could test the impact of different restoration techniques, materials, and environmental factors on the structural stability of Notre-Dame. This predictive analysis helped ensure the longevity and safety of the restored cathedral.

Public Engagement and Virtual Reality Experiences

The restoration of Notre-Dame has not only been a significant cultural and historical endeavor but also an opportunity to engage the public in the importance of preserving our shared heritage. 3D modelling has played a role in this public engagement by allowing people around the world to virtually experience and appreciate the beauty of the cathedral.

Using the detailed 3D models, virtual reality (VR) experiences have been created that allow users to explore Notre-Dame, both in its pre-fire state and during the restoration process. These immersive experiences provide a unique perspective on the cathedral and help to raise awareness of the importance of preserving and restoring such landmarks.

In addition, as the restoration project progresses, updated 3D models and VR experiences can be shared with the public, helping to maintain interest and support for the ongoing efforts to restore Notre-Dame to its former glory.


The restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris has been a monumental task, requiring the collaboration of experts from various fields and the integration of cutting-edge technology. 3D modelling has played a vital role in this effort, providing accurate digital representations of the structure, aiding in damage assessment, planning reconstruction, fabricating replacement components, monitoring structural stability, and engaging the public through virtual reality experiences.

The use of 3D modelling in the restoration of Notre-Dame not only highlights the incredible advancements in technology but also demonstrates the potential for these tools to be applied in the preservation and restoration of other significant cultural landmarks. As we continue to develop and refine 3D modelling technology, it will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role in preserving our shared heritage for future generations.