PARIS, France – The French army general charged with rebuilding Notre Dame devastated by the Paris fire was reprimanded by the government on Thursday after telling the chief architect to "shut up" in tension over the cathedral's future appearance. .
General Jean-Louis Georgelin lost his temper with architect Philippe Villeneuve in a dispute over replacing the tower – which was toppled in the April 15 fire – by an exact replica or mixed with a modern twist.
"As for the chief architect, I already explained that he should shut up," Georgelin, gasping in amazement, told a meeting of the lower house National Assembly cultural affairs committee on Wednesday.
Culture Minister Franck Riester tweeted on Thursday that Georgelin's outburst "was not acceptable."
"Respect is a core value in our society. As civil servants, we must be exemplary," he said.
"Best choice for Notre Dame"
President Emmanuel Macron – who appointed Georgelin to lead the major reconstruction project – said he was in favor of adding a "contemporary" twist to the tower.
But Villeneuve insists that it must be redone exactly as it was before.
Georgelin, former army chief of staff, suggested that "we move forward wisely so we can serenely make the best choice for Notre Dame, Paris and the world."
He said the final option would be decided in 2021 and in the meantime called for the "unrest" over the issue to stop.
Georgelin confirmed Macron's five-year timeframe for rebuilding the cathedral – a time that some experts find too ambitious.
Villeneuve, however, said the target could only be hit if the tower was rebuilt to resemble its former self.
"Still in danger"
Notre-Dame, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the banks of the Seine River in Paris, has lost its gothic tower, roof and many precious artifacts on fire.
Paris prosecutors said in June that a badly extinguished cigarette or a power outage could have started the fire and opened an investigation into criminal negligence.
Last month, the Ministry of Culture said nearly one billion euros ($ 1.1 billion) had been pledged or raised for massive reconstruction.
The cathedral is still wrapped in scaffolding and plastic sheeting.
Georgelin told parliamentarians Notre Dame "remains in danger".
"The phase of securing the building is not over yet. This will be done when the scaffolding around the tower has been dismantled," he said, warning of winter windstorms threatening to "destabilize" the temporary protective structure.
On the plus side, Notre Dame "seems to be no longer emitting lead" – a major concern soon after the disaster, which saw hundreds of tons of lead on the roof and tower melt.
Villeneuve, architect of the cathedral since 2013, said last month: "Either I restore it identically, it's me, or they make a contemporary spire and it will be someone else."