1001 Uses for a Shipping Container #203: A Cathedral

Damaged CathedralAt 12.51pm on 22nd February 2011 an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale hit Christchurch in New Zealand. Extensive damage to buildings in the area was recorded and a total of 185 people were killed in collapsing buildings.

The cities iconic 1864 cathedral was extensively damaged and the main tower collapsed in the earthquake. Whilst plans were being made to rebuild and make safe the structure it was decided that a temporary cathedral would be erected for the community. Architect Shigeru Ban was in Japan helping with disaster relief in Tōhoku following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident there when he was informed about the Christchurch earthquake and agreed to help immediately at no cost. Since August 2013 the congregation has worshipped at Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard Cathedral, which also serves as a conference venue capable of seating 700 people when not in use by the church.

Cardboard TubesThis impressive structure was designed by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who specialises in using paper and cardboard in construction. Expected to last around 50 years the cathedral is a vast triangle made from 98 cardboard tubes framing a spectacular glass window made from tessellating triangles, each of which carries images taken from the original cathedrals windows. A lightweight skin protects from the elements. Shigeru Ban was awarded the 37th Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2014 for his innovative use of materials and his dedication to humanitarian efforts around the world. He has used carboard tubes in many of his designs, declaring that “the strength of the building has nothing to do with the strength of the material. Even concrete buildings can be destroyed by earthquakes very easily, but paper buildings cannot.”

Bans CathedralSupporting the tubes (each of which weigh in at 500kg) are a series of shipping containers providing amenities such as chapels, kitchens, offices and storage. With very high load-bearing capability and quick and easy installation shipping containers often feature in Shigeru Bans designs. Despite delays in finding a site and overcoming tricky ground conditions the cathedral was the first major civic building to be completed in Christchurch as a part of rebuilding efforts. Once the original cathedral is repaired it will become the permanent home of the Anglican parish on whose land it was built.

The ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ is now recognised as one of the most architecturally significant buildings in New Zealand. The innovative design and construction methods have resonated strongly with the local population and it has become a powerful symbol of Christchurch’s recovery from the devastating earthquake.

All pictures © Bridgit Anderson

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