by Nicolas Mangon

Four years ago, a thick cloud of smoke filled the Parisian sky. Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the world’s most iconic cathedrals and a symbol of the human spirit’s enduring quest for beauty, faith, and hope—was burning. On that night, eight centuries of French history went up in flames as Paris’ beloved cathedral was scarred by the fire.

About five hundred firefighters battled the blaze for hours. Parisians watched the event unfold before their eyes in a scene very similar to the one described by Victor Hugo more than 170 years ago: “All eyes were raised to the top of the church. They beheld an extraordinary sight there. On the crest of the highest gallery, higher than the central rose window, there was a great flame rising between the two towers with whirlwinds of sparks.”

But Parisians weren’t the only ones impacted by the Notre-Dame fire: emotion spread far beyond the borders of France, with individuals and companies alike—including Autodesk—rushing in with donations to help save the landmark.

Soon after, Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost recognized that a cash donation was not enough, and that Autodesk needed to play an integral role in saving the historic structure. As a French native who spent six years studying less than two blocks from the cathedral, he was eager to get involved. Two weeks following the fire, he went to Paris to assess the damage and identify opportunities for Autodesk to support the reconstruction. Visiting the cathedral that day was surreal – it was shocking and emotional to see the damage so up close after he’d spent years passing by as a student.