Book Review: Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral, by Andrew Barrie, photos by Bridgit Anderson & Stephen Goodenough

Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral will be launched at WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival, on Wednesday 27 August, in the cathedral itself.

A temporary building that is loved by people – even one built with mere paper – can become permanent. I sense that this cv_shigeru_ban_cardboard_cathedralmonument in Christchurch will be loved and used by the citizens of New Zealand for a long time to come. – Shigeru Ban

Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral tells the story of the construction of the Cardboard Cathedral which was built to replace the historic Christchurch Cathedral destroyed in the earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011. The book uses photographs, essays, concept plans, and architectural drawings as a way to explore how architecture can be used to help a community rebuild not only its civic spaces, but its spirit.

Contributions to the book include a foreword by the Very Reverend Lynda Patterson, Dean of Christchurch Cathedral; an essay by Shigeru Ban; an essay by Professor Andrew Barrie; documentary photographs by Bridgit Anderson; full-colour plates by Stephen Goodenough; and an afterword by David Mitchell.

Architect Shigeru Ban has spent the last ten years working with emergency and temporary housing projects, and the Cardboard Cathedral is Ban’s largest post-disaster structure. The loss of twenty-eight Japanese students in the seriously flawed CTV building in the earthquake of 2011 was widely reported on the Japanese news, which is how Ban first learned of the disaster. Shortly afterwards, he was contacted by Reverend Craig Dixon – who had seen an article about Ban’s Paper Church in Kobe – about designing a replacement for the ruined Christchurch Cathedral.

In his essay, Professor Andrew Barrie calls Ban the “poster boy for the architecture profession’s sense of social responsibility” and Ban’s own philosophy of architecture supports this idea; that architects have traditionally worked for the rich and privileged, and through that have “ignored the need to design houses for ordinary people … [or] for the victims of natural disasters.” Barrie states Ban’s genius “originates in his ability to mould all of his concerns – aesthetic, structural, environmental, social – into builds of clarity, refinement, and beauty.” His designs have received international acclaim, Ban winning The Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2014, which is the most prestigious international honour for an architect.

Photo: Stephen Goodenough

Photo: Stephen Goodenough

The Cardboard Cathedral is clearly a product Ban’s social and design goals. There is something both epic and humble about the design and Ban’s choice of materials. At night, light from the cathedral spills out between the tubes and the transparent roofing. It glows like a beacon. The muted palette of the interior, however, has an unostentatious and simple beauty. The book details the construction process of using ninety eight massive paper tubes (which Ban insisted were sourced locally) over the laminate timber A-frame roof; a design choice that purposefully echoes the geometry of the old cathedral. The result: a space for worship and community.

The qualities of the new cathedral are captured by the book in no small part due to its exceptional design by the Alt Group’s Janson Chau and Dean Poole (the book has also been selected as a finalist in the Designer’s Institute Best Awards for 2014). The designers have used a combination of white, grey-green, and brown paper, where each paper type signals a different section: white for the forwards and afterword; grey-green for Barrie’s essay and the cathedral’s concepts/drawings; and brown for Bridgit Anderson’s documentary photographs of the construction. There is also a single section of Stephen Goodenough’s colour plates of the completed cathedral. These materials mirror the materials of the new cathedral, and the clean lines created by tight margins and a sans serif font in turn mirror the building’s design. The production is impeccable, and the clever design epitomises the way text and photography can work together to tell a story.

Photo: Stephen Goodenough

Photo: Stephen Goodenough

While the new cathedral is obviously, as Reverend Lynda Patterson states, for “the glory of God,” it is also representative of the resilience and fortitude of Christchurch residents. Some of the most memorable photographs in the book are of the giant tubes in a warehouse in Riccarton. After volunteers polyurethaned each tube they inscribed their names on the inside; Anderson’s photographs suggesting that many hands worked to create the new building. In his afterword, David Mitchell states that “the old cathedral was an essentially European building; the new one is essentially Pacific,” which, he suggests, indicates a move away from the “Englishness” of what is considered New Zealand’s most English city, and a likewise change in its residents.

Personally, this was a difficult book to review. I spent the first twenty-six years of my life in Christchurch, and many of my friends and family still live there. I knew people who died in the 2011 earthquake, and friends who lost their homes. Last year I returned to Christchurch for a poetry reading, and walking back to my hotel at dusk, I felt an incredible sense of loss and desolation. I have lived in Wellington for nearly a decade, so Christchurch is no longer my home, but it is the stamping ground of my childhood and early adult years. There is a strong connection between memory and place, but what becomes of memories when those places are gone? Shigeru Ban’s cathedral offers one suggestion: that we build new memories.

In this way, Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral works on many levels: for Christchurch residents it documents and celebrates community resilience; for some like me, it provides a way to connect with a new part of Christchurch; for others it may simply be a book about the power of architectural vision and innovation.

by Sarah Jane Barnett

Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral
by Andrew Barrie. Photographs by Bridgit Anderson & Stephen Goodenough
Auckland University Press, 2014
$59.99 RRP, 252pp., hardback
ISBN 9781869407674

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