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Students Build Truss for Notre Dame Cathedral

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

Using medieval building techniques, this summer, college students constructed a massive wooden roof support for the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Participating in The Truss Project, and led by Handhouse Studio, architecture students from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC spent ten days building a massive wooden support beam. The beam, which is currently being exhibited throughout the nation’s capital, will later be offered to France, for the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral, which was largely destroyed by fire in 2019.

Using 13th-century building techniques, the students, along with timber framers, carpenters, and faculty members, built a truss that stands roughly three stories tall and 45 feet wide. Working from official architectural plans by the lead architects of the Notre Dame reconstruction team, the students used just axes, string, and charcoal to build the support. Simple hand tools were used to bore holes for hand-hewn pegs.

The wood used for the truss was harvested from 30 white oak trees from a forest near Lexington, VA, as they were similar to the trees used in Notre Dame’s original roof.

The students spent the first four weeks learning how to use the tools and closely studying the plans, before taking on the project.

Although the completed truss has been offered to the architects responsible for rebuilding Notre Dame, they have yet to accept the offer. Visiting professor Tonya Ohnstad called the truss project a “gesture of global solidarity” that shows the French “we’re in this with them, we want to help them reconstruct it, and we hope that they will take the truss from us and put it in Notre Dame.”

Whether the roof support ends up being a symbolic gesture or is actually used as one of the 25 primary trusses to hold up the new cathedral roof, is yet to be determined. Even so, the project provided students with valuable hands-on experience in medieval building techniques.

To view a video of the project, click here.


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