The 6.3-magnitude earthquake that hit Christchurch, New Zealand in 2011 killed more than 200 people and damaged thousands of buildings, including the city’s oldest church, a grand stone copy of a gothic cathedral in Oxford. This week, two years after it fell, its replacement is open to the public. And it’s unlike anything ever built in Christchurch—or the world.
In the aftermath of the disaster, Christchurch officials invited Japanese architect Shigeru Banto come up with a temporary solution to the city’s lack of a cathedral. Ban specializes in paper structures built with hollow (but strong) cardboard tubes. He’s built dozens of traditional buildings using this technique, and even more temporary ones in disaster zones. Over the past three decades, he’s frequently delayed his longer-term commissions to help out with emergency housing at crisis sites all over the world, staging large-scale emergency shelters in Japan and building durable cardboard homes in Haiti.
Unlike those relief projects, though, Christchurch officials were looking for something much longer term: A building that would function for five decades, long enough to let them construct a permanent stone replacement. It would need to be large and comfortable enough to house an audience of 700 people on a weekly basis, but cheap and light enough to demolish easily once the time came. It would need to be a half-building, a strange hybrid of temporary design details and semi-permanent functionality.
Yesterday, after two years of design and construction, Ban’s church opened to the public. The a-frame roof is made out of 98 huge cardboard columns, anchored atop a foundation of shipping containers that provide a stable base. The main decorative flourishes are the triangular colored-glass windows, each veneered with bits of imagery from the original cathedral’s stained glass windows. The tubes themselves are coated in polyurethane and flame retardants to keep away mold and fire, and are designed to last decades beyond even 2063, which is when Christchurch aims to have its permanent cathedral up and running.