Shigeru Ban’s emergency cathedral for post-quake Christchurch gives cardboard a spiritual dimension…
BY SOPHIE DAVIES
When you imagine a cathedral, you think opulent bricks and mortar, not flimsy cardboard. With the launch of Japanese architect Shigeru Ban’s Transitional Cathedral for Christchurch, though – the world’s only cathedral made primarily of cardboard – the humble material has gained gravitas.
After Christchurch’s devastating earthquake in February 2011, the collapsed Anglican cathedral became the symbol of the New Zealand city’s suffering. Once its pride and joy, the building’s spire was reduced to rubble. In response, Shigeru Ban’s team was asked to design a temporary – or emergency – place of worship on Latimer Square.
A soaring, simple space, the new ‘Cardboard Cathedral’, completed in August 2013, was built to last 50 years with room for up to 700 people. Locals have likened its steep, A-frame shape to Maori meeting houses, but Ban took his cue from the original cathedral’s geometry, reinterpreting its lofty roof elevations using 20-foot cardboard tubes, supported by shipping containers, wood and concrete. A translucent polycarbonate skin clads the outside, allowing natural light to filter in between beams. Dominating the façade, the jaw-dropping triangular Trinity Window is formed from vibrant stained-glass patterns derived from the old cathedral’s rose window. Inside, white walls, minimal Ban-designed chairs and a slender cardboard cross offer serenity.
Paper architecture has been a passion of Shigeru Ban’s for years, with experiments ranging from a paper pavilion for Hermès to a tower, bridge, studios, galleries and a teahouse. His parallel interest in disaster relief has resulted in paper shelters for earthquake-struck Haiti, Rwanda, Japan, India and Turkey, a temporary school for Sichuan, China, a concert hall in L’Aquila, Italy and collaborations with the UNHCR. Low-cost, eco-friendly but strong cardboard tubes proved the key building blocks, essential for easy construction and earthquake proof. Next time you play ‘paper, stone, scissors’, perhaps paper should get top billing…
Pictures by Bridgit Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org