Church uses plastic, cardboard

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CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND (Dec. 15, 4:50 p.m. ET) — A plastic and cardboard church, designed by a firm of Japanese architects, will temporarily replace the Christchurch Cathedral that was extensively damaged in the New Zealand city’s February 2011 earthquake.

While the new structure will not be permanent, its designer says it could be in place for up to 20 years. The novel design, a style for which Tokyo-based Shigeru Ban Architects is renown, uses cardboard, corrugated polycarbonate sheets and shipping containers.

The cornerstone for the original bluestone cathedral was laid in 1864 and it was built progressively until completed in 1873. Its spire and the top half of its tower were destroyed and there was major structural damage when the Feb. 22 quake struck. The quake, one of a series of major tremors to hit New Zealand’s Canterbury region since Sept. 2010, killed 181 people.

Representatives of the city’s Anglican cathedral contacted Shigeru Ban Architects last April, after seeing its design for a paper church in Kobe, Japan, which replaced the city’s original church that was destroyed in a 1995 earthquake.

Shigeru Ban’s brief was to design a building that would be sustainable, environmentally friendly, safe, durable, beautiful, innovative and versatile.

The firm designed a US$3.1 million tent-like, A-frame structure, constructed predominantly from cardboard tubes. It will seat more than 700 people. Twenty-foot long shipping containers will form the building’s base. There are 64 cardboard tubes, each 30 inches in diameter and 55 feet long. The roof will be manufactured from corrugated PC sheets.

Shigeru Ban’s Yoshie Narimatsu, who is in charge of the project, said PC is a thermoplastic polymer and easily worked, molded and thermoformed. “[The sheets are] easy to handle, cheaper than glass and translucent,” Narimatsu said. 

Construction starts in January and will take three months. Shigeru Ban started work on the project in May and is not charging a fee.

The Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust, an official, global fundraiser for recovery efforts for the city and the wider Canterbury region, funded the project’s US$389,000 feasibility study.

Shigeru Ban’s owner, Shigeru Ban, said cardboard is an ideal building material because it is readily available, recyclable and surprisingly strong. “The strength of the building has nothing to do with the strength of the material,” he said.

“Even concrete buildings can be destroyed by earthquakes very easily. But paper buildings cannot.

“Normally after disasters, the price of building materials goes higher but, since this is not a traditional building material, it’s very easy to get,” he said.

Shigeru Ban’s buildings are weatherproof, fire resistant and secure, and have lasted more than 20 years. Narimatsu said the cardboard structure would be in use for “several years” while the Anglican Church decided whether it was feasible to repair the damaged cathedral.