Two years ago the earthquake in New Zealand caused extensive damage to the city of Christchurch. The iconic image of the disaster was the rubble of Christchurch Cathedral, which was so damaged that it was reluctantly slated for demolition. It takes time to rebuild a cathedral, but its absence would be felt as a constant reminder of the tragedy. The authorities hit on solution: commission a temporary cathedral.
Enter Shigeru Ban, the innovative Japanese architect who has come to specialise in large scale temporary structures. His past buildings include exhibition pavilions and pop-up theaters, as well as disaster response housing. If buildings are going to be temporary, it’s best if they are cheap to construct, low-impact and recyclable, so Ban has developed techniques using cardboard. That was his chosen medium for the ‘transitional cathedral’.
This week the Cardboard Cathedral was finished, with the first service due this Sunday. It is built on a platform of shipping containers, which provide side-chapels, smaller rooms and storage. On top is a triangular structure that tapers towards the front, composed of long cardboard tubes. The front is a large mosaic of triangular stained glass. It’s a striking building, and “a powerful symbol of hope for a rebuilt, renewed Christchurch.”
Just because it’s cardboard doesn’t mean it’s in any way fragile. A polycarbonate roof covers the cardboard tubes, so it won’t go soggy. It’s actually designed to last 50 years, and it’s earthquake proof.
Cardboard architecture or furniture should in no way be considered disposable. While it is usually used for temporary structures, you can use it for permanent ones too. There’s a cardboard school building in Essex. It is also an obvious material for the kind of semi-permanent internal fittings that are used in office environments.
If you’re interested in what the new cathedral might look like in a few decades time, here are the three concepts being considered.