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Cardboard church to replace Christchurch cathedral in New Zealand


April 17, 2012

A model of the planned Christchurch Cathedral (Image: Shigeru Ban)

A model of the planned Christchurch Cathedral (Image: Shigeru Ban)

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Early on the morning of September 4, 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the South Island of New Zealand causing widespread damage. This was followed by a 6.3 magnitude quake on February 22, 2011 that was much shallower and devastated the city of Christchurch – NZ's second-largest city - resulting in the loss of 185 lives. Among a considerable number of building collapses was the historic Anglican Cathedral, which sustained sufficient damage that it had to be demolished. Work has now begun on a temporary cathedral, intended to serve the needs of the community until sufficient funds are acquired to build a permanent replacement. Oddly, the architects decided to make the replacement of cardboard!

The damage to the cathedral was great, with near-total collapse of the spire, and damage to the facade and structural framework. As sufficient funds for replacement were not forthcoming, the Diocese initiated design studies for an inexpensive replacement cathedral to serve the needs of the Anglican community until a permanent replacement could be constructed.

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban returned with the donation of a design for a soaring meeting space constructed of cardboard and shipping containers. Ban is renowned in architecture for his remarkable paper tube structures and buildings. He previously donated a design for a Japanese church destroyed by the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995. That church building is still in use, and was even moved to a new location and reconsecrated in 2006 to replace another earthquake-damaged church.

The cardboard cathedral is expected to cost roughly NZ$4 million (about US$3.8 million), compared to an estimated NZ$25M (US$20.5M) for a permanent replacement.

Sources: Christchurch Cathedral, Anglican Taonga

Update: A number of readers have alerted us to the fact that it was the February 2011 earthquake and not the September 2010 quake as originally stated in the article that was responsible for bringing down the majority of buildings, including the Anglican Cathedral. We've now updated the story to reflect this. Thanks for all those that pointed this out.

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson

The earthquake that destroyed the church, causing the damage shown, was a 6.3 quake on Feb 22 2011 that caused 4x the ground movement of the Sept 4 one, killing 185 people. (The September quake had no fatalities) If I recall correctly, the Cathedral was open to the public when the quake hit. We've had 10482 recorded quakes/aftershocks since September, including 4 with a magnitude of 6+. http://www.canterburyquakelive.co.nz/ for realtime statistics, its quite amazing the level of detail available.

Tony Smale

The proposal is brilliant in its clarity of architectural language -a pity it is tempoary -it celebrates our modern existence today, picks up on the traditional maori house form, & therefore expressing a faith rooted in indigenous NZ expression it wonderful in its simplicity of form, its lightness , its wonderful primary colours -colours express symbolism of hope (rainbow) generosity of space & open glass (a church that is open to all ) a transparent touch that is "of today" cardboard form is suggestive of sustainability congratulations to the Architect -it is wonderful -look forward to the tempoary becoming the permanent -(Eiffel Tower Paris was meant to be tempoary but became permanant -lets hope the same happens here )

Mike Purtell

re; Mike Purtell

The Eiffel tower is constructed of puddle iron that has a carbon content that falls within the umbrella of the term steel. Paper will not stand up to the NZ environment near as well.


New Zealand is called "the land of the long white cloud" due to the somewhat rainy weather. i would think that unless the cardboard is sealed completely, including in/out and edges; that it would self destruct in short order. however, a neat idea.


Looks more like coroplast than corrugated cardboard.

Gregg Eshelman

I have built much smaller things from corrugated ( the correct term for what is commonly called cardboard) that were completely waterproof. I purchased large sheets of corrugated and impergnated them with polyester resin or marine varnish making it much like plywood. Glued together with marine grade glue, such structures will last quite well in wet environments.

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