Cardboard may play a key role in resurrecting a New Zealand landmark that was leveled in a natural disaster earlier this year.

In the aftermath of a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in February that rattled Christchurch, New Zealand, officials for the quake-ravaged ChristChurch Cathedral — which had served as the city’s centerpiece since 1864 — have been working with Japanese architect Shigeru Ban to build a 700-person-capacity cardboard cathedral as a temporary replacement.

The project is now in the conceptual stage, and a $50,000 feasibility study is under way, according to ChristChurch Cathedral’s website. There is an ambitious goal to open the cardboard cathedral on Feb. 22, 2012 — the one-year anniversary of the destructive earthquake, which killed 135.

The cathedral’s design is based around 64 to 86 cardboard tubes, each weighing more than 1,100 pounds and measuring about 32.7 inches in diameter and from 55.8 to 72.2 feet in length.

The plan calls for the tubes to be placed on a foundation comprised of 20-foot-long shipping containers, forming a triangular shape.

The A-frame temporary cathedral is estimated to top out at 78 feet and will have an estimated life of 10 years.

ChristChurch officials estimate the project will cost about $3.4 million in U.S. dollars, and could be constructed in as little as three months, with construction overseen by contractors, who will work with local volunteers.

The plan is for Sonoco’s New Zealand division, Sonoco NZ Ltd., to locally manufacture the cardboard tubes. Sonoco is a global manufacturer of consumer and industrial packaging products, including cardboard tubing used in the paper mill, textile, and tape and label industries. The company also produces concrete forms for construction applications.

Since May, Shigeru Ban — who has designed paper tube structures since 1989 — has worked pro bono with ChristChurch Cathedral officials on the design of the cardboard structure.

Known as an "emergency architect," Ban has a specialty in designing temporary structures following crisis situations, and to date has overseen the construction of a paper church in Kobe, Japan; and paper log houses in Turkey, China and Japan.

Ban has also created clusters of paper temporary shelters in Haiti and a temporary concert hall in Italy, which opened on May 7. In the U.S., Ban reconstructed a damaged home in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina — the New Orleans structure did not utilize cardboard tubing.

While many would question the use of cardboard as a construction material, Ban — in his comments to ChristChurch Cathedral — noted that he views cardboard as an ideal material, as it’s readily available, easily transportable, recyclable and surprisingly strong.

"The strength of the building has nothing to do with the strength of the material," Ban stated. "Paper buildings cannot be destroyed by earthquakes."

Another benefit of cardboard: It’s consistently low-cost. Typically, the price of building materials escalates following disasters, but because cardboard is not a traditional building material it remains cheap and readily available.

Some other designers and builders — including students — have worked to transform cardboard into a more widely used building material.

Following Hurricane Katrina, Australian architect Peter Ryan designed a prototype for a cardboard shelter for displaced New Orleans residents, for example.

Los Angeles-based designer Tina Hovsepian has created Cardborigami, a shelter utilizing standard corrugated cardboard that can be distributed to urban homeless and those displaced by disasters. The cardboard is treated to make it waterproof and fireproof.

Recently a team of Auburn University students took on an experimental student housing project called Corucon, where hard-to-recycle waxed corrugated cardboard was reclaimed and used as bales for building.

While there are positives in using cardboard as a primary building material, there are also negatives. Cardboard baffles are sometimes used in new-home construction, as they are cheap and easy to cut. However, they’re also known to prevent insulation from covering the top plate of a ceiling — which is needed in cold environments — and they may absorb moisture, resulting in mold.

The cardboard cathedral could serve as a small artisan retail space, an expo center, a concert hall, or a covered market once a permanent cathedral is rebuilt, according to Christchurch officials, who haven’t yet released a plan for a permanent restoration of the cathedral.

The original ChristChurch cathedral (above) was badly damaged in a February earthquake. Photo courtesy of Shingeru Ban Architects.

This scale model of the proposed temporary ChristChurch cathedral incorporates cardboard tubes. Photo courtesy of Shingeru Ban Architects.

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