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PSU grads vie to design Notre Dame

Duo have never worked together

Courtesy photo / A mockup shows Jennifer Cole and Mike Snyder’s design for the Notre Dame Cathedral.

A Central High School graduate is part of a team vying to design a new spire for the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

In April, a fire destroyed the roof and some of the interior of the iconic church and toppled its spire. The devastation was felt worldwide, but through the heartache, a promise to rebuild and restore the historic structure was made.

A competition was announced to design the new edifice. When Jennifer Cole, a 1995 graduate of Central High School in Martinsburg and a 2000 graduate of Penn State University, heard of the contest, she reached out to a group of her college friends to see if anyone would be interested in collaborating on a design.

“Everyone had a similar reaction — wow that’s cool, but crazy. But Mike (Snyder) was encouraged and a bunch of thoughts came together at the beginning of the concept. It was a strong idea, and Mike was on board right away,” Cole said.

Michael Snyder works in State College at Gannett Fleming Architects Inc. Cole works across the country at Harley Ellis Devereaux in California.

The duo had never worked together on a project — not even in college.

They collaborated for two months on the design through emails and telephone calls.

They are both proud of their concept that incorporates religion, pays homage to the past and looks ahead to the future.

“We wondered how the spire could become like a disciple of Christ through design. Our suggestion is to bring hope and connection to humanity by bringing the design of the spire to the level of the plaza. This connection occurs with a new sculpture that touches all the world through an experience of mercy, unity and service. We saw it as an opportunity to acknowledge and learn from the past and look forward to a future full of hope. Both the sculpture and the spire are intended to represent the nine fruits of the spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-23,” Snyder said.

Cole, who visited the Notre Dame Cathedral in 1998 and climbed the stairs while she was there, was moved by the loss and wanted to re-create the beauty she saw when she visited.

“I had been there in person, and it was incredibly beautiful. The loss was devastating even though buildings are not permanent. I realized at that same time that we should celebrate and preserve the history,” she said.

The competition asked for a more beautiful design, and Cole thought about that. “I already thought it was beautiful and meaningful to the Catholic faith. I thought about what could ever be more beautiful and started thinking about how the design can be a disciple of Christ, to bring the good word to the world,” said Cole.

The design by Cole and Snyder includes a spire, explained as the Gothic arch that “transcends time and is reimagined as the Holy Spirit hovering above the Cathedral through an ethereal stainless steel expression of both gentle tongues of fire and the dove of the Holy Spirit. The delicate and powerful arches spiral upward in praise toward a light-filled Cross representing Christ as the victorious light of life (John 8:12).”

The ceiling and roof and the plaza sculpture designs also infuse Christian religion while integrating humanity. The nine fruits of the sprit will be translated into all languages of the world on the plaza sculpture acting as a “Rosetta Stone for God’s Word.” Visitors will be encouraged to touch the words and to make paper rubbings of the words during visits.

The design submitted by Cole and Snyder is one of more than 200 submitted by people from around the world. Cole has been visiting the website and from her reviews, she estimates that their design is ranked between ninth and 20th overall. Since this competition is based on votes, she would like people to visit the website and consider their design. Individuals can vote online through Wednesday.

Their design, incorporated with modern elements, seeks to bring together the past, religion and technology toward a shining future.

Snyder said, “Our design seeks to infuse religious symbolism with traditional forms, modern materials and construction techniques to provide a design that is both accessible and sensitive to the existing architecture and spirituality the place represents.”

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