Faith in Paper

02 october 2013 / architecture / words asih jenie images eugene coleman and bridgit anderson

Shigeru Ban has completed an emergency cathedral with humble materials that will last for 50 years.



Emergency shelter specialist Shigeru Ban has recently completed a pro-bono temporary place of worship in Christchurch, New Zealand. Created in partnership with associate architects Peter Marshall and Eugene Coleman from Warren Mahoney , the building serves as a temporary replacement of Christchurch’s iconic 19th century Anglican cathedral that was severely damaged by the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that devastated the city in February 2011.



Standing proud in the city’s former central business district, the transitional cathedral takes its trapezoidal plan and triangular profile after the dimensions of the Christchurch Cathedral but uses a contemporary set of materials: concrete, polycarbonate sheets, recycled shipping containers and Ban’s signature material, paper tubes. The defining elements of the structure are the 98 paper tubes leaning in and up to shape the roof and sidewalls, lending the building its name: the Cardboard Cathedral.



Waterproof, fireproof and reinforced with locally procured LVL laminated wood inserts, the 60-centimeter-diameter paper tubes are placed within five centimeters of each other. The gaps allow lights, softly diffused by the semi-transparent polycarbonate sheets on the outside, to fall dramatically inside the 800-square-meter space. Fixed to the bottom of the tubes are eight pristine white shipping containers that are used as confession booths and storage.



Ban’s custom-made stackable chairs form pews for 700 churchgoers; a paper crucifix adorns the end wall, while on the opposite side a glass wall composed of triangular panes of stained glass etched in primary colors replace the gothic rose window.



“The strength of the building has nothing to do with the strength of the material,” says Ban. Although intended to be a transitional space with “humble” materials and a lower cost, study reveals that Cardboard Cathedral has an expected lifespan of 50 years, more than enough to shelter churchgoers during the decades it will take to restore the original Christchurch Cathedral.


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