Christchurch's cardboard cathedral

Maia Devereux Maia Devereux
​Cardboard Cathedral Christchurch 坂茂建築設計 (Shigeru Ban Architects)
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Today we're taking a look at a quite stunning structure in Christchurch, New Zealand, designed by Shigeru Ban, a renowned Japanese architect who has won the Pritzker Prize – one of the world's premier architecture prizes, often considered to be the Nobel prize of architecture. Ban is known for his innovative projects, that combine the latest technology with a sensitivity to the social, political and economic environment in which architecture is practiced and its products constructed. Ban was an early pioneer in using cardboard as a construction material, and is known for his designs for temporary structures that can be quickly erected in disaster areas. Ban's portfolio is vast, and breathtaking, but for today we're going to focus on just one project: a cardboard cathedral built in Christchurch, New Zealand, following an earthquake in 2011. Let's take a look!

The outside

In February 2011, and earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale shook the city of Christchurch in New Zealand. The earthquake resulted in widespread devastation to buildings and infrastructure, along with the loss of 185 lives. One of the buildings destroyed in the earthquake was the city's Anglican cathedral. Shigeru Ban was asked to design a temporary replacement structure to be built near to the site of the original. He agreed, and designed the cathedral on a pro bono basis. In the picture alongside you can see the result: a triangular canopy rising 21 metres from the altar, underneath which lies space for 700 congregants. The space is also used as a civic space and conference centre. 

The roof canopy

The materials used speak to the temporary nature of the structure, while creating inside an atmosphere that's pleasant and serene. The building has an estimated lifespan of 50 years – so it's not that temporary – but that lifespan does allow plenty of time for a permanent replacement to be built. The roof canopy is composed of 96 cardboard tubes, each one 60 centimetres wide and set at an incline, over which as been laid an opaque waterproof covering made of polycarbon. The tubes are coated with waterproof polyurethane and flame retardants, and supported by laminated wooden beams. The flooring is composed of pre-cast concrete while eight shipping containers form the walls. 

The furniture

All of the interior elements are from designs by Shigeru Ban: from chairs built of natural wood, to the cardboard tubes aforementioned, to the baptismal font and altar. Inside the cathedral are a variety of room additional to the main space, as well as storage spaces, side chapels and spaces for private prayer. The harmony and coherence of the design, as well as the materials, create a serene and glorious space. 

The stained glass window

That stunning, colourful front window is a standout feature of the structure. Note that between each cardboard tube is a gap that allows the light in, creating a soft, natural light in the interior. The window is made from stained glass, broken up into individual triangles of different colours. It's a modern take on the classic stained glass window, that through its sheer size manages to impress. 

Interior rooms

The interior rooms have walls of cardboard, in common with the rest of the structure. Curves and waves stand in beautiful contrast to the serried ranks of cardboard tubes above. The interior is plain, its colours muted; appropriate for a place of worship constructed in the teeth of a disaster. 

Serried ranks

This view of the cardboard tubes that make up the pitched roof canopy gives us a fabulous view of this intricate, delicate, yet sturdy structure. Light pours in through the gaps, and as it passes between the tubes creates a misty, soft light that's very calming and tranquil. 

Are you amazed at what Ban has achieved with cardboard in this structure? Let us know in the comments!

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