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New Zealand Unveils Cardboard Cathedral Plans

The ruins of ChristChurch Cathedral

The forgotten earthquake, the one that didn’t set off a massive tsunami or bring a nation to the brink of nuclear disaster was the 6.3-magnitude one which hit New Zealand on February 22. It killed 135 people and destroyed most of the city of ChristChurch.

One of the most devastating losses was the Cathedral, which has been the center and symbol of ChristChurch since 1864. Cathedrals are not just large building projects, they take a long time because they are showcases of their faith, places where the choice is to use artisans instead of rough builders, hand-crafting instead of mass production. So the people of ChristChurch decided to explore the possibility of an interim replacement for their cathedral and have consulted with Japanese “emergency architect” Shigeru Ban. Ban has designed a 700-person capacity, 78-foot tall, temporary cathedral using one of his favorite materials – cardboard tubes.

The project in still in the “feasibility study” stage and it is hoped that the temporary cathedral could be completed by the first anniversary of the quake. The base of the cardboard cathedral would be 20-foot-long shipping containers, while the walls/roof would be tubes meeting high above the containers.

The design itself is not unique. There have been other A-frame churches with glass between the rafters to create an open, airy, light-filled space inside. What makes Ban’s design one-of-a-kind is the choice of material. The cardboard tubes would be manufactured by Sonoco NZ Ltd., so the manufacturing would be local. Sonoco is a global manufacturer of packaging products and concrete forms for construction.

Ban has been creating paper tube structures since 1989 and took this commission for free. His specialty is designing temporary structures to meet immediate needs following disasters and he has created a paper church in Kobe, Japan, and paper log houses in Turkey, China and Japan. He also built clusters of shelters for Haiti and a concert hall in Italy. His only non-paper design to date was a reconstruction of a home in New Orleans.

Though cardboard sounds a bit ridiculous as a construction material, Ban notes that cardboard is easily manufactured, easily transported, recyclable, very affordable and surprisingly strong. “The strength of the building has nothing to do with the strength of the material. Paper buildings cannot be destroyed by earthquakes.” Traditional Japanese homes had paper walls – large sheets of paper suspended in light wooden frames. It was a practical building design in a country that has always known earthquakes. In the past, the paper was waxed for water-proofing. Sonoco’s paper tubing is both water and fire proof. The life expectancy for the ChristChurch Cathedral is ten years.

Paper is catching on in architecture. There are some drawbacks, particularly if paper is used in conjunction with other materials, but as emergency shelters following disasters, they could prove to be the best idea since air drops of supplies.

Ban's cardboard cathedral design

Cardboard cathedral interior designs






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