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Home » News » FSU art professor to replicate Notre Dame Cathedral truss as historical teaching opportunity

FSU art professor to replicate Notre Dame Cathedral truss as historical teaching opportunity

Published June 26, 2021
Story Courtesy of FSU News

Students and professional timber-framers working together on the Gwozdziec synagogue reconstruction in Sanok, Poland.

In April 2019, the Notre Dame Cathedral was engulfed in flames in a historic event seen worldwide that resulted in a near-total loss of the iconic French landmark.

This summer, Florida State University Department of Art professor Rob Duarte will help lead a national project with Handshouse Studio to build a large-scale wooden model of the oldest trusses in the roof structure above the Notre Dame Cathedral’s choir. Then in spring 2022, Duarte will teach a sculpture class available to students university-wide which will include the construction of a 1:10 scale model of portions of the roof structure.

“Doing this type of hands-on research into historical objects is not about recreating it for the sake of reenactment,” Duarte said. “It is about developing real attention to craft, materials and process and trying to be as authentic as possible. It is a unique way of learning about the intersection of culture and technology, and the history of architecture, art-making and more.”

The first phase of the project will occur this summer. In connection with the architects and traditional builders working on reconstructing the cathedral in Paris, Duarte will work as part of a team crafting a full-scale timber-framed replica of one of the cathedral roof trusses. The finished truss will be exhibited in the Great Hall at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

In the sculpture class, students will conduct hands-on research into the technology, craft and architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral. The course also will incorporate visiting lectures by architects, historians and traditional builders.

Duarte hewing a timber during the construction of a human-powered wooden crane at Prague Castle in the Czech Republic.

Other universities are participating in this project simultaneously, which will culminate in an exhibition of research at the National Building Museum in the summer of 2022.

The nonprofit organization leading this project, Handshouse Studio, creates adventurous hands-on projects through community service, building projects with partners worldwide to illuminate history, understand science and perpetuate the arts.

Duarte has worked with Handshouse Studio since 2003 and is currently a member of its Board of Directors. He and his students have completed multiple projects over the years with the organization.

“We replicated a roof of a wooden synagogue that was destroyed in World War II, which is now a central exhibit at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland,” Duarte said. “We also constructed an 18th-century wooden submarine, now located in The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., and created human-powered wooden cranes in the Czech Republic and Poland.”

All projects are centered around experiential, hands-on learning techniques.

“Professor Duarte’s course unites research, craft, process and a deep understanding of materials,” said Michael Carrasco, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts. “It is precisely this kind of embodied knowledge that is at the core of the arts. We are excited that our students will have the opportunity to participate in such a wonderful project.”

Some of the other schools joining FSU on the Notre Dame Cathedral roof truss project are The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.; Washington University, St. Louis; and Virginia Tech’s Washington Alexandria Architecture Center (WAAC).

Duarte is co-leading the effort to organize the cohort of schools that will participate in the project in the spring and summer of 2022.

Read more on the Notre Dame de Paris Truss Project. For more on how FSU students will take part in the project, contact Duarte at