Friday, August 15, 2014

Cardboard Cathedral - Shigeru Ban

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

Rising from the ruins: Shgeru Ban’s temporary structure speaks hope after the disastrous Christchurch earthquake.  The earthquake that hit Christchurch on 22 February 2011 resulted in 185 deaths, and entered New Zealand’s history as one of its worst catastrophes. It was also a tragedy for Japan, with 28 Japanese nationals among the dead, the largest national group after Kiwis.

In Christchurch’s inner city an innovative and symbolic structure has just taken shape: a ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ to stand in for the historic building devastated by the earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011. Signalling the beginnings of renewal in the CBD, the cathedral is the first new civic building completed since the quake and is built to last forever.

Shigeru Ban, its designer, is a world-class architect and expert in disaster-zone building – and the new cathedral is his largest post-disaster structure to date. In essays, building plans and specially commissioned photography, Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral tells the story of this remarkable feat. Originally conceived as a temporary building, its construction involved design challenges, structural innovations and community involvement; and the finished, now permanent structure seems set to become an enduring symbol of Christchurch’s revival.

So it's appropriate that a Japanese architect should have some input into this project.  While the grey haired traditionalists all argue the toss about restoring a decrepit, damage stone monstrosity on an unstable foundation, wanting the past to return they miss what's right in front of them  Hope.  Christianity, if nothing else has tried and truly succeeded to reinvent itself in the face of adversity.  The old Cathedral represented an architecture and a culture that was our past but cannot be sustained in our future.  Christchurch's Cathedral was a fine building but it represented all the xenophobic snobbery brought down under by English immigrants who were running away but just couldn't unshackle themselves from the proud scum of England and all the inappropriate and transformed ideas from the mother country.  The building from the UK was highly inappropriate, as the earthquakes have now proved. 

In steps Shigeru Ban, an architect whose self manifesto was to design buildings for us, the people, instead of those with money.  His entire philosophy came from helping those in earthquake stricken and flood zoned countries.  Early bombastic work gave way to cheap, sustainable project in China, after severe damage.  His modus operandi is to focus on what recycled or local materials can be used.

Moreover, Ban brought in the idea, to conservative ostrich-headed Christchurch the idea of a temporary building as both a art exhibition and a response to a need.  The question of whether enough people would ever turn up to use the Cathedral seems to have been overlooked.  But that aside a unique opportunity for Christchurch to have a series of revolving designs, constantly changing, presents itself.  This gets around the issue of bad architecture remaining forever, as other cities can attest.

I've been to this building.  It's amazing.  It captures exactly what a church should - atmosphere, light and sound.  Why waste money on a dark and dingy construct hat simply represents oppression and colonialism when a revolving door of new designs could offer.  If you've ever been to the Christchurch art gallery, then you'd know what a cool space can be like.  Christchurch, I predict will have many more of these.  They deserve to have.  Ban's book is something of a bible, in it's own way, telling the story of hi career, his ambitions and those moments when he realised how good design can give life.  In a small way I'm jealous of the container mall because of the inspired innovation, the way that simple materials and simple ideas can achieve so much more than the overpriced, bland corporate abortions that litter our urban landscapes. 

If innovation is begat from necessity then bring it on.  Ban shows that a good design is good, no matter what materials are used.  This book will help you understand that.

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