Temporary cathedral to be built of cardboard

A “Transitional Cathedral” partly constructed of cardboard.

We arrived in New Zealand in July 2002 – winter in the Southern Hemisphere – and stayed in the Millennium Hotel, a fine lodging overlooking Cathedral Square in Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city. Across the plaza was the huge stone Anglican Cathedral; I remember climbing to the top of its 200-foot tower to get a view of the surrounding city, having no idea what fate had in store for this massive historic edifice.
The city of Christchurch was built around this cathedral, a dream of the founders. Only eight years after the city’s establishment, in 1858, the Bishop of Christchurch gave his approval for the construction of the cathedral, despite the town’s population numbering only 450 men.
In 1864, the cornerstone was laid during a festive public celebration, but after building the foundation, construction stopped for a decade because of a funding shortage. Finally, a new architect named Benjamin Mountfort was appointed, who had designed many other buildings in the city.
By 1881, the nave (main seating area) was completed; slated to be constructed of wood, a possibly fateful decision was made to use stone quarried locally. It took another 23 years to raise money and complete the building with sanctuary, transept, tower and spire. It has since become the most-visited church in the country and a beloved landmark.
New Zealand is a geologically active land. Melting glaciers, steaming fissures, bubbling mud pits and earthquakes are all prevalent; tremors damaged Christchurch Cathedral four times since 1881. Worse was to come.
A 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch in February 2011, and left the building badly damaged and many surrounding buildings in ruins. Its spire and the top half of the tower were completely destroyed. Subsequent tremors in June and December did further damage, including the collapse of the Great Rose Window high in the the west wall.
After much controversy, church authorities decided to deconsecrate and demolish the cathedral, despite its historic and cultural importance. Plans have been announced for the construction of a temporary “Transitional Cathedral.” The same earthquake that damaged the cathedral destroyed an old stone church and vicarage elsewhere in the city’s center, and these buildings will be razed and replaced by this innovative structure built overlooking Latimer Square.
A “Cardboard Cathedral” will be the episcopal home for Anglicans for up to 10 years while the original cathedral is demolished and a new one built. The temporary structure will cost $5.3 million; some of this money will come from insurance proceeds. The city of Christchurch had been granting the historic building $240,000 annually, and it is hoped this funding will continue. Additional sources of revenue are being sought.
The temporary structure will incorporate cardboard tubes, timber beams and structural steel; it is expected to last well over 20 years. Completion is scheduled for December. With seating for 700, the building will also host concerts, exhibitions and community events. It is the largest “emergency structure” ever built by Japanese architect Shigera Ban, who specializes in this type of construction.

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