A Permanent Memorial and a Temporary Cathedral

 

 

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Some friends were asking about my New Zealand trip and what I had written earlier about the Christchurch earthquake. When I mentioned the “Cardboard Cathedral”, they wanted to know more. This temporary Cathedral building is on the site of Christchurch’s oldest Anglican Church, demolished after the earthquake. It replaced the original Christchurch Cathedral, still standing a few blocks away but awaiting demolition, too damaged by a whole series of earthquakes since 1864. Here is a link to more information. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardboard_Cathedra

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Just across the road however, is a permanent open space where before Tuesday, 22 February 2011 stood the 7 story Canterbury TV building. In the less than 30 seconds nothing was standing except the wall with the lift shaft and 115 people, half the casualties of the city on the earthquake. Unlike most Christchurch building which were damages, like the 2 Cathedrals, t was relatively modern (1986) but an enquiry found it’s design deficient, it’s engineer inexperienced and under supervised and it should never have been approved causing it to collapse like pack of cards and catch fire. Amongst the dead were 70 foreign ESL students

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The NZ Government have acquired the site and set it aside as a permanent memorial to all the earthquake victims .

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Now to the temporary Cathedral. The renowned “catastrophe architect” Shuzeru Ban offered his services pro bono to plan and produce this as the first significant building erected after the earthquake – opened on 6 Aug 2013

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This A Frame Structure is made of 86 Cardboard tubes each weighing 500 kg, all supported on 8 six metre containers, which make up the walls

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This inside view shows the exposed ceiling structure of tubes. The Building is designed to be a performance space as well as church.

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The cardboard tube theme continues in the furnishings

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From Wikipedia “It rises 21 metres (69 ft) above the altar. Materials used include 60-centimetre (24 in)-diameter cardboard tubes, timber and steel.[16] The roof is of polycarbon,[11] with eight shipping containers forming the walls. The foundation is concrete slab. The architect wanted the cardboard tubes to be the structural elements, but local manufacturers could not produce tubes thick enough and importing the cardboard was rejected.[12] The 96 tubes, reinforced with laminated wood beams, are “coated with waterproof polyurethane and flame retardants” with two-inch gaps between them so that light can filter inside. Instead of a replacement rose window, the building has triangular pieces of stained glass.[17] The building serves as a conference venue as well as a cathedral.[4]“”

There has been a lot of controversy over this building. Partly the cost of about NZ$6,000,000 for a building with an expiry date of 35 years – the estimated time before the cardboard loses strength through water absorption. The other complication regards the question of whether to repair or replace Christchurch’s original Cathedral as the permanent city Anglican cathedral. The original dates from 1864 so has tremendous heritage value but is believed to be damaged beyond safe, economical limits to repair. This kind of question is still being asked about many buildings in the city of Christchurch, yet to be demolished in the hope that they can be restored.

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Christchurch – Four Years Dealing With Crisis

We only spent 12 hours in Christchurch – long enough to teach me something! It is approaching the fourth anniversary of the major earthquake here where I remember a solid week of media attention on the devastated city, the 185 people killed, the dissection of what causes earthquake, appeals for charitable responses and post earth quake stories about emergency services travelling from all over the world to help out.



This was not our hotel in Christchurch, which was mostly surrounded by flattened building sites, but an entire wrecked street about a block away.

We were certainly not aware of what was still happening four years later though. Frank, our driver from the airport, summed it up “It took 120 years to build this city and 30 seconds to flatten it. We’d like it fixed right now but realistically it won’t be right for 10 years” it’s not just economic costs either. Entire suburbs are still without sewerage and running water – those underground services take so long long to plan and rebuild and the 10,000 aftershocks the city suffered made it so dangerous to safely get started. Rebuilding costs? Forty billion dollars and rising. The populations dropped,  entire industries have moved, and difficult decisions made on abandoning iconic landmarks – even the question “is this place, on a fault line, too dangerous for a city altogether? had to be considered

The lessons for the people of Christchurch continue daily but I hope what I learned today will remain with me. Our daily news cycle now includes a staple catastrophe story. Sometimes it’s a natural disaster like tsunami, bushfire or earthquake but often it’s human in origin like atrocities, terrorism and war. We recognise that emotionally we respond more to things that affect us, or people like us, or are close to us geographically, and this is reflected in the space the media allocates. This explains why a terrorist incident in Sydney consumes the news for a month and a mass slaughter in Africa hardly rates a mention. 

However we are being trained by the media to have such short attention spans! Why don’t we demand to hear the end of the story as well as the beginning. It might not be as exciting to consider rebuilding as demolition but it’s just as important for us to know what happened next.