New Zealand Cardboard Cathedral an Enduring Symbol of … Something

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — In what many are hailing as a “cute” accomplishment of modern engineering – or else the crowning achievement of world house forts – a temporary but conceivably permanent cardboard cathedral was dedicated this week in New Zealand.

The old Christchurch cathedral stood from the late 19th century until Feb. 22, 2011, when a magnitude 6.3 earthquake so damaged the structure that it was reckoned beyond repair. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban designed the current structure, which he said is “totally fine to draw on, with markers or crayons or whatever,” out of thick cardboard tubes.

“If you want to play Christians,” Ban told reporters. “Here is a cardboard fort you can play Christians in.”

The A-shaped structure includes stained glass windows and seating for up to 700. Experts say it could survive for at least 50 years.

New Zealanders have been divided over the meaning of the structure, with some arguing that it “demonstrates creative and environmentally responsible pluck,” and others saying, “That’s a cathedral? Crikey, I thought we had a homeless problem.” Many have wondered aloud if someone has changed the definition of “cathedral.”

“An earthquake destroys a house of worship in a town called Christchurch—that’s just heaps loaded with metaphor,” said Auckland resident Mitch Bailey, 31. “Then they build a replacement out of cardboard. What does it mean?! ‘Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, all will stay fresh and delicious’?”

Promotional literature for the new cathedral says “it can stand beside Notre Dame, St. Paul’s and Chartres on the list of places you might find a church service, as well next to egg crates, shoe boxes and paper towel rolls on the list of things made from cardboard.” The structure was meant to be waterproof, but last month a storm proved that that is not the case.

“This building is a sure sign that nature reigns supreme and can always bend man to her will,” said Christchurch Mayor Althea Durditch. “Or else the opposite. Mankind will make do and endure through … blah blah blah. Whatever, we pray in a box now.”