Christchurch Temporary Cathedral
We are, by now, all familiar with the image of the torn and broken Christ Church Cathedral following the earthquakes of February 22nd and June 13th June this year. As the building that, above all others, symbolises the heart and soul of Christchurch, the damage suffered by the Cathedral is not only devastating in and of itself, but as a symbol of the damage and devastation experienced across the city.
Though there has been some commitment that the Cathedral will be rebuilt, the jury is still out on the timeframe and cost of this reconstruction; and it is acknowledged that, in the mean time, there is a hole that needs to be filled.
Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, known for his innovative work constructing temporary shelters and housing using paper and cardboard tubing, has been commissioned to create a preliminary design for a temporary structure while a decision is made on how best to go about reconstruction of the Cathedral. This design was made public at the end of July, The "cardboard cathedral” design comprises 64 cardboard tubes, ranging in length from 17 to 22 metres, that create an A-frame structure supported on foundations formed from shipping containers. The cardboard would be treated to ensure a certain degree of weather-tightness and fire resistance. Ban believes it will take approximately three months to build, and will cost around $4 million NZ  - impressive figures when you consider the intended capacity of 700 people.
Before gaining approval, the cardboard cathedral is to be the subject of a $50,000 feasibility study funded by the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust, a registered charity that is governed and operated by Trustees, and administered by the Department of Internal Affairs. 
The consideration for sustainability that lies behind the design is certainly to be heralded. This temporary structure could be built using any number of materials, but the selection of cardboard means that the construction will be low in cost, easily recycled, and produce little waste. It will also be easily portable, and offers the option of re-use elsewhere once the Cathedral has been rebuilt.
However, there are a number of other issues to consider:
- Since the design for the cardboard cathedral was put forward, there has been virtual silence on what is happening to the actual Cathedral. Has it been reassessed and stabilised since June? Is it being protected from further structural damage and damage by weather? Are the demolition materials still being collected and catalogued? Are plans being put in place for its reconstruction? Is this being costed and are funds being raised?
- Where will the temporary cathedral be located – next to the ruined Cathedral? If so, how will access be controlled?
- Is this intended to be an inter-denominational or non-denominational venue?
- Does Christchurch even need a temporary cathedral? Wouldn’t the $4 million be better spent on reconstructing the actual Cathedral?
- Where is the comparison between the temporary option and other options? What are the assurances that it will be a temporary option – after all, New Zealand is a place where temporary architecture often becomes permanent, and this concern has been legitimately raised over other recently erected “temporary” structures such as the Cloud on Auckland’s Queens Wharf.
Presumably these and other questions will be addressed in the feasibility study, which I await with keen interest. Indeed, at a cost of $50,000, one hopes that it is a very comprehensive document that leaves no stone unturned.
- Posted Sept. 9, 2011