Desperate times call for desperate measures. The hard-hit community of Christchurch was engulfed in rubble caused by the 2011 earthquake in New Zealand. Buildings were pulled to the ground, leaving hundreds of people homeless and 185 dead. There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon as a cathedral will be built to restore faith.

Among a considerable number of building collapses was the historic Anglican Cathedral, which sustained so much damage that it had to be demolished. The cardboard cathedral, designed by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, will replace the 19th century church until enough funds are raised to construct a permanent building. For community members in Christchurch it will not only be a beacon of hope, but a statement that they will raise to their feet again. This cardboard cathedral will become a symbol of the community’s resilience.

Building with cardboard
According to Ban’s official website, paper tubes of an equal length and 20-feet containers in a triangular shape will be used to build the cathedral. “Since the geometry is decided by the plan and elevations of the original cathedral, there is a gradual change in each angle of paper tubes,” says Ban.

He believes that buildings made of concrete are easily destroyed by earthquakes, but paper-tube buildings can survive without damage. Ban has been endorsing cardboard architecture for more than a decade now. He built several cardboard structures over the years.  One of these structures is the Singapore Biennale Pavilion that was constructed in 2006.

Ban’s website states that as an information center and press center for the 2006 Singapore Biennale, this is the first space frame structure to be constructed of paper tubes. “All paper tube, steel connection, column and foundation details were designed with the intention of possibly relocating the structure after its current use,” the website states.  

According to Ban cardboard is the perfect building material. “It is low on environmental impact, is virtually a waste product, easy to manufacture and has good insulating properties.” He says carboard is also an attractive texture and it is cheap.

Ban says this cathedral, which has a capacity of 700 people, can be used as an event space and a concert space. According to the website, the building can be constructed at a fraction of the time and cost it takes to create a traditional building. “It can also be re-erected for a different purpose in the future.”

This is not the first time Ban used cardboard to create temporary, quick-to-assemble shelters. He was also involved in creating shelters after the devastating earthquake in Japan. He designed the Takatori Catholic Church, nicknamed the Paper Dome, in the aftermath of the 1995 Kobe earthquake. It was moved to Taiwan in 2006 to replace a church destroyed there in a 1999 earthquake.

Ban’s temporary church, now known as the Transitional Church, will be supported by cardboard tubes pitched to create a traditional cathedral ceiling that rises to about 80 feet. “The material is both lightweight and strong. Costs will amount to $3,8-million  and the work will be completed before the end of 2012,” the website states.

Ban foresees that the building will last 20 years. According to Reverend Craig Dixon, a church spokesperson, they will only utilise the building for 10 years and then reconstruct it for other purposes where it is needed at the time. In the meantime a permanent replacement will be designed and built.

Wood, steel and concrete
According to the website, the structure will be weatherproof and fire-resistant. Traditional materials like concrete, steel and wood will be used to provide structural support to the A-frame style cathedral and an attached annex.

Offices spaces will be created using up to two dozen shipping containers, which will also be utilised  as kitchens and storage facilities, while the roof would be made of an opaque polycarbonate material.

Innovative but simple solutions to a problem always arise in dire circumstances. Out-of-the-box concepts and designs like Ban’s have a huge impact on communities that are stuck between a rock and hard place. Selecting a church to be temporarily restored speaks about a community’s battle to keep their faith during a time when they are literally surrounded by destruction and chaos.  

Written by Nichelle Lemmer