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Posted at: Jun 10, 2018, 12:04 AM; last updated: Jun 10, 2018, 12:04 AM (IST)

Moving on

Crafted out of 98 cardboard rolls, Christchurch’s transitional cathedral is a symbol of resilience
Moving on
NOT A HOUSE OF CARDS: The earthquake proof and waterproof cathedral is expected to last for at least 50 years Photo by the writer

Kalpana Sundar

SOARING ceilings, minimalistic pews and altar  bathed with sunshine entering the stained glass squares — the entire space feels charged with faith. It’s not just any cathedral but a ‘transitional’ one (affectionately nicknamed the Cardboard Cathedral) crafted out of  98 industrial cardboard rolls, wood and glass by  Japanese ‘disaster architect’ Shigeru Ban. Christchurch, the largest city of the South Island of New Zealand, was devastated by a deadly earthquake in 2011. The city was filled with crumbling structures, jagged masonry and pock-marked land after the quake.  Since the  main Gothic cathedral was  damaged, the locals felt the need for  a temporary space for worship and congregations, till the main cathedral could be re-built. 

Shigeru Ban,  who is known for ingenious use of  low-cost  and discarded material, was  invited to Christchurch to design a building that would be a temporary  space  for the Anglican Cathedral congregation, as well as provide a venue for concerts, exhibitions  and other events. The architect used cardboard, which is easily available, recyclable and  inexpensive.

The   sloping ceiling  of the  trapezoidal Cathedral is made of  98  angled cardboard tubes coated  with waterproof polyurethane and flame retardants,   and re-enforced with  laminated timber beams. The walls of the cathedral are made from eight recycled  shipping containers, painted white, that support the roof and are divided into offices,  and chapels. Even the  wall-mounted  crucifix is made of cardboard! The cardboard and wooden structures are naturally more earthquake resilient as these are flexible. The space with the tubular pews and altar can hold up to 700 worshipers. The  kaleidoscopic triangular  window of  coloured glass gives the cathedral a mystical air — with  49  triangles etched with images drawn from the original cathedral’s Rose window.

The  Cardboard Cathedral embodies the resilience of the city. It was the first major civic building completed after the quake. The cathedral is more durable than it looks — it is expected to last for at least 50 years and is earthquake proof, and of course, waterproof.

Many people say the church reminds them of simple Maori structures rather than a church. The church indicates the city’s ability to think out of the box and accept revolutionary architecture. The stone cathedral of the city is going to be re-built at a whopping cost  of $NZ104 million and will take nearly 10 years. But for many locals, the Cardboard  Cathedral is a symbol of the city ‘moving on’ after the quake. It’s also popular with the tourists. In the guest book at the cathedral, one can find many touching messages of appreciation from around the world. One of these reads: “Something so beautiful to come from the ruins.”

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