“Cathedrals usually stand as enduring monuments to human skill and inventiveness, and magnificent pointers to the presence of God among us,” says the website of ChristChurch Cathedral in Christchurch NZ, but this cathedral is “slightly different.” It’s made of cardboard.
After a magnitude 6.3 earthquake left the original cathedral badly damaged, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban was commissioned to design a temporary structure for worship. Ban is known for his construction of shelters for refugees of natural disasters in Japan, Rwanda, Haiti, and other countries, using cardboard, paper tubes and shipping containers.
But what’s striking to me is that Ban is not just a humanitarian or an architect, but truly an artist. His pieces—structures, buildings—are beautiful.
And I mean, of course an architect wants his work to be beautiful. But Ban’s work is not typical architecture. His pieces are not “enduring monuments.” They’re temporary. Putting such work and such care into the aesthetics of something made of trash, which will ultimately become trash again, is the kind of faithful absurdity the Kierkegaard in me can really appreciate. It reminds me of graffiti artists putting their work on the side of a train—they’ll probably never see their work again, but the beauty is in its loss.
I think this absurdity of temporal aesthetics (sidebar: is any beauty actually enduring?) is compounded by the fact that this structure is a place of worship. “A Cardboard Fortress is our God” certainly wouldn’t get the same airtime as the original hymn. But I suppose that’s why this is so fascinating to me of the “weak theology” bent. Why shouldn’t we practice faith in the absurd, the fleeting, the may-as-well-not-be? And why should that be any less than beautiful?