A handout illustration of the new cardboard cathedral designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. (Illustration by Christchurch Cathedral via Getty Images)

When Japanese architect Shigeru Ban designed a new cathedral in
earthquake-devastated Christchurch, he chose the most unlikely of
materials — cardboard — for the landmark project.

The New
Zealand city's magnificent Gothic revival cathedral hewn from local
basalt was irreparably damaged in the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that
claimed 185 lives on February 22 last year.

PHOTOS: Quake Pummels New Zealand

Urgently needing a
temporary replacement, the Anglican Church commissioned Ban — who
donated his services gratis — to draw up plans for a place of worship
to house Christchurch's faithful.

The result is the so-called cardboard cathedral now taking shape on the quake-scarred city's skyline.

from 600-millimeter (24-inch) diameter cardboard tubes coated with
waterproof polyurethane and flame retardants, it will be a simple
A-frame structure that can hold 700 people.

"It will be a huge milestone towards recovery for Christchurch," project manager Johnny McFarlane said.

"It's going to be a great building to walk into, it's very light and airy and gives a good sense of dominance and scale."

a world-renowned architect who has been hailed by publications such as
The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, sees the cathedral as a way
his profession can help Christchurch's shattered community recover from
the quake.

While the 55-year-old takes on major commercial
projects such as office buildings and tourist resorts, he is also a
pioneer in "emergency architecture" which can be rapidly erected in
disaster zones.

He began in the mid-1990s, working with the UN to
erect temporary shelters for refugees after the Rwanda genocide and has
since helped with relief efforts in scores of humanitarian emergencies
from Turkey to his native Japan.

"This is part of my social
responsibility," he told AFP. "Normally we (architects) are designing
buildings for rather privileged people … and they use their money and
power for monumental architecture.

"But I believe we should build more for the public… people who have lost their houses through natural disaster."

said many so-called natural disasters such as earthquakes were worsened
by the failure of man-made structures and architects had an obligation
to help.

PHOTOS: Haiti Earthquake Damage

"People are not killed by earthquakes, they're killed by collapsing buildings," he said.

the responsibility of architects but the architects are not there when
people need some temporary structure because we're too busy working for
(the) privileged. Even a temporary structure can become a home."

common feature of Ban's emergency architecture is the use of recycled
material, including shipping containers and beer crates, which were
filled with sandbags to act as shelter foundations after the 1995 Kobe

But his signature material is cardboard tubes, which
he says are readily available after disasters, unlike traditional
materials such as timber and steel.

He has used them to build
everything from a concert hall in L'Aquila, Italy, a schoolhouse in
China's Chengdu and a "paper church" in Kobe, which was erected in just
five weeks.

"The material is available everywhere in the world,"
he said. "Even when I was building a refugee shelter in Rwanda I found
the paper I needed for my structure in Kigali.

"So anywhere I can
go I can find this material, it's very inexpensive and normally this is
not a building material, so it's easy to get in the emergency period.
It's also lightweight and cheap."

Christchurch's new cathedral,
due to be completed in April next year — 132 years after the
consecration of the original stone version — is the largest cardboard
structure Ban has designed.

The church, insurance and public
donations are paying for the NZ$5 million project ($4.2 million) for
which local builders have offered discount prices.

It has a concrete base, with the cardboard tubes forming two sides of the A-frame and containers helping brace the walls.

end of the cathedral will be filled with stained glass and a polycarbon
roof will help protect it from the elements, giving a lifespan
estimated at 50 years.

Church authorities envisage it being used
as a cathedral for only 10 years, until a permanent replacement is
built, although Ban said the enthusiastic response in New Zealand to his
innovative plans could change that.

"If people love it, it will be permanent, I hope that's going to happen," he said.

authorities in Christchurch pored over the plans and declared they
fully meet earthquake standards, while even locals initially sceptical
about the cardboard concept have been won over.

"I thought it was a bit of a strange idea but now I think it's really cool," Christchurch resident Hunter McKenzie said.

"It's actually good just to get the cathedral up and running and try to get the city back to normal."

–by AFP