Looking back at the skyline of Christchurch from a distance is when I realised the true devastation of the earthquakes that shook the ground back in 2010-11. Only two buildings remain as a memorial to the former skyline of the largest city on New Zealand's south island. Like others, I had heard of the devastation of the quakes, but then moved on with life, the stories moved to the back of my mind. Having the privilege of visiting last week, I found myself asking "Wait, what happened again?" Some 10,000 buildings were destroyed over the months that the earth quaked. Four years on, the rebuilding has only just begun. Some buildings crumbled to the ground; others torn in two. Properties in the downtown core are in various stages of tear down; from vacant lots to piles of rubble to buildings with their sides ripped open. You cannot turn a street for roadworks, repairing the miles of pipe below the surface that were also ripped apart.
One building that is making its make on people's consciousness is the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral. Designed by Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban, this building is swiftly turning into a symbol of Christchurch rising from the rubble. With the original Christ Church Cathedral lying in ruin and awaiting a decision on its future, the new church was much needed as a place of refuge in the middle of the chaos. It is designed as a temporary structure to bridge what was with what will be. Only designed to last 50 years, but at 130% of the current earthquake standard; shipping containers line the sides of the building, holding up the roof structure and also creating intimate spaces beyond the large gallery of the cathedral. The cathedral’s nickname is derived from the cardboard tubes, coated in polyurethane and reinforced with laminated timber which holds up the roof structure. The glass windows that form the triangle to the roof at the front of the building incorporate images from the original church. Elsewhere, cardboard tubes form the legs of tables and the cross that hangs front and centre over the altar.
If this new design is anything to go by, Christchurch may just find itself a new identity through sustainable design and architecture.