The Transitional Christchurch Cathedral, or Cardboard Cathedral, designed by this year’s Pritzker Prize winner, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is a rather wonderful thing.





TRANSITIONAL CATHEDRAL_1550 Wiki summaries the structure and its reception thus:

The cathedral rises 70 feet (21 m) above the altar. Materials used in its construction include 2 feet (0.61 m) diameter cardboard tubes, timber and steel.[16] The roof is of polycarbon,[11] and is held up by eight shipping containers which form the walls. The foundation is concrete slab. The architect initially 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” leaving two-inch gaps between each so that light can filter into the cathedral. Instead of a replacement rose window, the building contains triangular pieces of stained glass.[17] In addition to serving as a cathedral, the building serves as a conference venue.[4]

The Wizard of New Zealand, one of the strongest critics of the Anglican diocese for wanting to demolish ChristChurch Cathedral and who was previously a daily speaker in Cathedral Square, called the design of the Cardboard Cathedral “kitsch“.[5]

Lonely Planet named Christchurch one of the “top 10 cities to travel to in 2013” in October 2012, and the construction of the Cardboard Cathedral was cited as one of the reasons that makes the city an exciting place.[18]



However, I found its placement unfortunate. Here is the description of the site from the building’s wiki page:

The Cardboard Cathedral is located on the corner of Madras and Hereford Streets on a section allocated to the Anglican church in Christchurch‘s original 1850 survey opposite Latimer Square.[1] It was originally the site of St John the Baptist Church, the first church built in permanent materials by Anglicans in Christchurch, until it was demolished after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.[2] The St John parish gave the land for the site, and in return, can use the Cardboard Cathedral for its own purposes, and will keep the building once the permanent pro-cathedral can be used.[3]


Or rather I should say that the placement is entirely understandable, but the condition of the streets that both this new building and the lovely Latimer Square are on is appalling. Madras is the north-bound half of a oneway couplet that really ought to be two wayed and calmed. It is little other than a speedway; complete with NZTA motorway signage designed to read at 100kph. The fact that this route does a dogsleg around Latimer Square seems to be a plus for the boyracers who treat it as a race track. It is still a residental street. Frankly I’m amazed I survived crossing back and forth between the Square and the cathedral while shooting it.

Now is a great opportunity to fix this terrible hangover from the bad days of traffic engineering as it is hard to see how much quality of place can develop around this motorway condition. Certainly does precious little for contemplation, either in the church or the Square.


At the rear of the Cathedral is Peter Majendie’s installation Reflection of Loss of Lives, Livelihoods and Living in Neighbourhood can be seen. This comprises of 185 found chairs painted white, one for each of the people that were killed in the earthquake. Effective and affecting.


Photographs by Patrick Reynolds

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  1. Patrick, the easiest and cheapest way to calm the traffic on the one way streets is to change the timing of the traffic lights so that the green wave works for traffic travelling at 45kmh instead of the current 55 on Madras and 60 on Barbadoes. That was a critical factor in New York’s introduction of cycleways into some of it’s one way avenues. Three of the one-way pairs are inside the central city plan area so now would be a real good time to take the necessary few metres of land alongside the roads to allow the NY system of sidewalk-cycle lane-parking lane-2x traffic lanes-sidewalk to be implemented cheaply. I don’t see any reason not to include the one way system in the slow core via the greenwave timing as getting the traffic to travel at 47kmh will maximise the throughput of vehicles whilst reducing noise and enhancing safety and accessiblity.

    Of course, the first step in traffic changes is to find out where the traffic is coming from and going to and what alternative routes could be made to perform the same function with less disruption. In this case if the bulk of peak traffic is commuters from the north accessing the Waltham/Sydenham industrial corridor then tidal flow green wave synchronising of the intersections on the mainly commercial building lined Fitzgerald Ave would probably be the best solution especially if the Government is actually serious about replacing the previous commercial use of this area with residential/mixed use.

    1. As I understand it, the one-way streets already have a 43km/h green wave speed. The CCDU “Accessible City” transport plan notes that “The… one-way streets will be retained but enhanced, as appropriate, with improved streetscapes. These enhanced one-way main distributor streets will provide the required street amenity to suit the local character and intended development while still allowing safe and efficient vehicle movement.” The Plan also aims to encourage more through-traffic on to the surrounding Four Aves, e.g. Fitzgerald Ave. So you might get your wish for a nicer Madras St in the near future. Mind you, I think a 2-lane one-way street is quite a different animal from those 4-lane wonders in downtown Auckland…

      1. Glen, The speeds I cited are from personal experiences over many years, but I haven’t driven those streets without roadsworks on them recently.. Hopefully they do now have a 43km/h green wave.

        When push comes to shove,CERA’s use of “as appropriate” or “where appropriate” is generally ends up meaning “if we’re forced to”. These are city council owned roads and while the council is proposing to spend $10m a year on cycleways for the next 8 years the one way streets aren’t included in that program. Worse still, streetscapes (ie the bit of the road corridor not covered in tarseal) don’t get subsidised by NZTA so unless the prospective residential developers demand that CCDU do it before they’ll invest then it is highly unlikely the council will be able to do it, because in the cost sharing agreement only $80m is provided for the central city road improvements even though the Council’s plan that came out of the share an idea process had a street enhancement estimate of more than $300m.and since that plan was very similar to the extant Central City Revitalisation Plan the costing was probably based on good research.

        Since AT seem to pay attention to the transportblog maybe we need Patrick and everybody else to visit Christchurch more often, and to critique the various plans being prepared by CERA and ECan.

  2. This is the first time I have seen the cardboard cathedral. I agree – it is quite lovely. If only more could be done for the rest of the city. Thank you for sharing your images.

  3. Tags: ‘Overseas Cities’. Ha, was this deliberate?

    And like others, this is the best view I’ve had of this building. It looks exquisite, and I hope its surrounds can be brought up to standard to reach a similar level of peace and beauty.

  4. The buildings in the second to last photo really sum up the relative roles of government and council in the earthquakes.

    On the left is a ten year old office building that CCDU want to demolish because it is on land now zoned residential, the building is apparently not badly damaged and could be easily and profitably strengthened if it was converted into apartments instead of being retained as open plan office space.

    On the right is a small, elderly brick substation building. If you look closely you can see the seismic strengthening added to it in the decade before the earthquakes as a result of the work done by the council-led Engineering Lifelines Group to implement the lessons learned from Kobe. Had those upgrades not been made then the September quake would have caused the level of disruption to essential services that happened with the February quake, and the February quake would have left the city without reliable power or water supplies for several weeks or possibly months. As it was, the western office parks had these services restored within hours so the CBD businesses were able to relocate and get back to business very quickly and that’s why Treasury’s dire forecasts didn’t eventuate.

    Unfortunately many of those who don’t know the reason why the essential services were able to be restored so quickly and efficiently assume it must have been because the city wasn’t really that badly damaged compared with Kobe or the Japanese Tsunami.

    1. Surely Christchurch is ripe for a blog based debate? Any chance of getting some concerned people together and one going Kevyn? Bulid up an audience and then they have to take notice, could be a productive way to channel frustration into action?

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