The day before the second anniversary of the cataclysmic and fatal earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, architect Shigeru Ban stood in the half-finished nave of the “cardboard cathedral” he designed for the devastated city, his largest temporary structure yet. Thirty-seven of the cardboard tubes that form the soaring A-shaped church roof were already installed, and will be covered in translucent corrugated polycarbonate panels. The project is meant to evoke the feeling of being in the 19th century Christchurch Cathedral, which toppled in the quake on February 22, 2011.
The architect had just come from meeting with a group of Japanese parents in town for the anniversary memorial: their children, who’d been in Christchurch studying English, were among the 185 people who died in the quake. As the architect talked about his design for the cathedral, a bitter southwest wind made an unholy racket, whipping up the plastic sheeting that was protecting the cardboard tubes. When complete, the roof will rise up to 70 feet above the altar. The structure is quite simple. The foundation is a deep concrete slab, onto which eight shipping containers sit, four to a side, form the walls. The containers anchor the roof, which will be comprised of 96 cardboard tubes when the building is completed in May. Two-inch gaps between each tube will allow shafts of light to filter into the sanctuary, which will seat 700 people.