As this is my first blogging experience, I thought I’d follow on from a previous thread relating to Christchurch’s new Cardboard Cathedral. Hopefully the images below help to give an overall picture and allow you to make your own judgement, but I also offer my own observations.
Last summer I was fortunate enough to briefly visit Christchurch during a 6 week, last-of the-student-loan burning trip with a coursemate from university. As it had been over a month, at least 3000km of open road and a flight over the Tasman Sea since visiting Sydney Opera House, visiting Shigeru Ban’s newly completed and contentious cathedral was our only concrete ( or cardboard) plan for Christchurch.
Having not seen the proposals and after listening to the owner of our hostel’s disparaging comments, we headed to the cathedral with relatively low expectations. On first sight its equilateral front with colourful stained glass appeared harsh, but as we approached its form began to soften. The translucent polycarbonate skin was lit from the inside and softly glowed, hinting at the substantial frame beneath. The frame, as expected, was reinforced cardboard tubes but the concealment of the timber and steel allowed for the tectonics of cardboard to be expressed, giving a lightweight quality. Externally, the effect of tapering into a taller point above the altar did give it a distorted, post-quake aesthetic, but internally created an impressive cardboard vault. For me it was not the repetitive nature of this ribbed vault that was most striking, but the unexpected warming quality of the cardboard, especially in contrast with the glacial exterior.
The servicing to the rear of the building appears clumsy in comparison to everything else. The city as a whole has used shipping containers successfully to support perilous facades and create complexes of temporary shops, and if the building is to last for 50 years as intended, perhaps the services could be more fully incorporated into shipping containers just as the vestry, office and chapels are. This said my overall impression was that of a considered and surprisingly sensitive piece of architecture.
In a city decimated by recent earthquakes, it was great to see temporary architecture leading the way forward, even suggesting approaches to building on a fault line. On the surface Christchurch may have felt like a ghost town (locals openly admitted that the city was much quieter than it had been pre-quakes) but the Cathedral was one of a number of temporary structures or projects that were attempting to help people resume normal life and reunite the community, even if that meant dividing opinion.