Truss Project Brings Medieval Architecture to Campus
Visitors to Catholic University’s campus this week saw an unusual site on the University Lawn: a team of 40 carpenters and framers using axes to construct a large triangular shape out of 30 white oak logs. The team is building a replica of truss #6 from the Notre-Dame de Paris, one of 25 primary trusses which held up the cathedral roof. All of the original trusses were destroyed when the cathedral caught fire in 2019.
The truss project is part of a partnership between Catholic University’s School of Architecture and Planning and Handshouse Studio, a Massachusetts-based educational nonprofit, with the support of Charpentiers sans Frontière (Carpenters Without Borders), a group of carpenters who seek to replicate historical building methods. To build the truss, the team is using the official drawings created by French lead architects Rémi Fromont and Cédric Trentesaux of the Notre-Dame de Paris reconstruction process.
Tonya Ohnstad, the school’s associate dean of graduate studies, is teaching a tandem summer course on the history and reconstruction of the cathedral, which included a public lecture series featuring experts in medieval history, construction, and timber fields. Students in the course have studied the architecture and building methods of the French Gothic church and built 1:10 scale models of the trusses over the church’s choir. This week, they are working alongside the traditional carpenters on the lawn in front of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to hew and cut the white oak logs into structural timbers.
No modern tools or equipment will be used in the construction process. All wood will be hand-hewn, and each piece of timber will be connected with pegs.
The end result, which will be approximately 45 feet wide and 35 feet tall, will be blessed by Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory and then hand-raised on campus on Aug. 3. Following the raising on campus, the truss will be moved to the National Mall for a one-day raising. It will then be exhibited at the National Building Museum.