Innovation comes in waves, small ones and sometimes huge brutal waves. Once at the coast they also retract, go down under. Same goes for innovation; after initial euphoric results and (media) hypes, setback kicks in, bringing in the need to retract, regroup and rethink. The often brutal waves disrupt at first, but after some time arrive in the hype cycle’s valley of disillusion. Then it takes a while before it really breaks through.

And every now and then these waves of innovation take historic proportions.

When in 2015 Vassar College’s art historian Andrew Tallon spent weeks in the majestic Notre Dame to record every detail in 3D, he probably never had thought this work would become of historic importance. Tallon, who died at age 49, probably never would’ve guessed his work probably will become one of the core foundations to rebuild the Grand Dame Notre Dame after the horrific fire of April 2019.

Many of the paper drawings used to build the Notre Dame initially as well as the ones used during the centuries following over the years have been lost or at the least not documented in a useable way. Tallon, saving his meticulous work in a digital form, being able to store also in different formats and places, gave France a huge and generous gift by actually fulfilling one of his own dreams and to share them digitally.

This innovation wave, at the time seen as important (hence the National Geographic coverage of it) but only after years and an unexpected event had grown into a brutal wave to rebuild history.

I will probably never see the end result of the rebuild, although the crowdfunding brings in large sums of money. But it will take years and years before rebuilding will start and it will not be an easy, nor a quick task.

I hope my grandchildren (assuming there will be) will have the chance to visit the rebuilt site in the future and will have the notion that some time ago a would-be monk, a music composer, took on his dream and digitalized reality with the help of innovation and science, and thus kept history alive.

I’m left with my memories of my own visits to one of the places that withstood many events over the centuries, all but one: a devastating fire. One that millions across the world watched live over the internet or on their TV-channels, and brought tears to many of those who visited this iconic Grand Dame of which its beauty would completely overtake you when you entered it, like a large brutal wave.

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Eveline van Zeeland, Jan Wouters, Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Carlo van de Weijer, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous episodes.