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Notre Dame Truss Destroyed in Fire Finds New Life at Catholic University

Image courtesy of Handhouse Studios

by Jaci Jedrych 

Catholic University’s campus had an unfamiliar sight this week– the normally peaceful campus bustled with carpenters and students carving large white oak logs. Enabled by a partnership between the School of Architecture and Planning and Handshouse Studio, students worked alongside professionals to construct a replica of truss number 6 from Notre-Dame de Paris, which was destroyed when the historic cathedral caught fire in 2019. 

The replica is approximately 45 feet wide and 35 feet tall, the same dimensions as the original. Students and faculty worked with traditional timber framers and carpenters, using the same techniques that medieval architects used to construct the original. 

Rising junior architecture major Eddie LaPoint took the elective for an experience he “wouldn’t want to miss out on.”

“I learned a lot about how to use different types of axes and how to hew logs without powertools or any other modern tools,” LaPointe said. “I think this experience has significantly influenced what I might do after finishing undergrad school and it opened up doors I didn’t even know were there for me.”

The truss was constructed as part of a related course on the history and reconstruction of the cathedral, taught by Associate Dean of Graduate Studies Tonya Ohnstad, and included a public lecture series featuring experts from many fields. The class taught the traditional architecture techniques, and students practiced building 1:10 models of the truss. The 10-day building workshop of the final structure commenced on July 26.

“A typical day started out with a morning meeting at 8 a.m. so everyone could get on the same page,” LaPointe said. “Then until 5 (except for a lunch break) we would just work on hewing all the logs, and eventually creating the joints at all the ends and fitting the pieces together. For me, it was a lot of learning from the professional carpenters there since I was completely new to this a week and a half ago.“

Students are glad to be able to participate in this unique, hands-on project.

“Overall the experience was amazing and even though it was nothing like I thought it would be, it exceeded my expectations,” LaPointe said. “I met so many incredible people from all over who do so many interesting things and I’m very grateful for the experience.”

 After the structure was completed, Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory blessed it at a raising ceremony held on August 3 on the Basilica Lawn. A second public raising event occurred on August 5 at the National Mall.
The truss will make its way to the National Building Museum and be installed until September 16, where it will be exhibited. To see when it is on view, visit the National Building Museum website.

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