Mapping Notre Dame’s unique sound will be a boon to reconstruction efforts

Enlarge / Protective tarps displayed on the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, two weeks after a fire devastated it in Paris. (credit: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

When the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris caught fire last month, people found some hope in the news that scientist Andrew Tallon had used laser scanning to create precisely detailed maps of the interior and exterior of the cathedral—an invaluable aid as Paris rebuilds this landmark structure.

The acoustics of the cathedral—how it sounds—are also part of its cultural heritage, and given the ephemeral nature of sound, acoustical characteristics can be far trickier to preserve or reproduce. Fortunately, a group of French acousticians made detailed measurements of Notre Dame’s “soundscape” over the last few years, along with two other cathedrals. That data will now be instrumental in helping architects factor acoustics into their reconstruction plans.

Dialing in the reverb

“We have a snapshot of the acoustics from two years ago and a computer model that can reproduce that,” said Brian FG Katz, research director of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) at Sorbonne University in Paris, who worked in tandem with Tallon’s laser scanning project. “The idea is if they want to, for example, change the materials, we can tell them what the impact of those changes will be on the acoustics. We’re not trying to force anybody to restore it one way versus another, but they should be able to make an informed decision about the acoustic impact.”

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