Posted in education on September 18, 2017 1:09 pm EDT

Temporary Structures Deliver Eternal Hope

Following natural disasters around the world, interim houses of worship -- designed and built from simple materials -- can fill the faith needs of those displaced.

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch, New Zealand; Architect: Shigeru Ban. Image by Anthony Lam.











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TAGS: architectural design, community, philanthropy, recycled content, worship space,


By Ed Van Herik

When a major earthquake left Christchurch, New Zealand's iconic cathedral unusable in 2011, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban offered a solution to the dismayed congregation. Using shipping containers for a base, Ban inserted steel rods into industrial paper tubes to create a temporary 700-seat, A-frame church designed to last until a fundraising campaign can restore the permanent structure. Ban also designed the furniture for the new church, dubbed the Cardboard Cathedral.

The Cardboard Cathedral, an elegant structure that gives no indication of having an expiration date, was not Ban’s first stop-gap religious structure.

Cardboard Cathedral's interior. Image by Matt Jenkinson.

The Cardboard Cathedral, an elegant structure that gives no indication of having an expiration date, was not Ban’s first stop-gap religious structure. In 1995, he created another temporary church in Nagata-ku, Kobe, Japan – again, after a devastating earthquake. The temporary Takatori Catholic Church served the parish for a decade before being dismantled and moved to Taiwan to serve as a temporary house of worship there.

Shelter from life’s storms

Ban, who is known for creating temporary structures with readily available materials, was recently awarded a contract by the United Nations (UN) UN-Habitat, a refugee relief agency, to build temporary housing in the Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement in Turkana, Kenya, Africa.

While the contract doesn’t call for him to build a temporary house of worship as well, Yuka Terada, project coordinator for the project, says, “We also have a strong focus on providing accessible public space, recognizing that religious facilities and other community centers are important elements for communities and should be included in any community rehabilitation action.”

They aren’t the only agency that feels that way. When the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a companion UN refugee relief agency, plans a new refugee settlement, they automatically build in sites for temporary houses of worship.

Planners set aside the land and provide needed materials as a routine element in creating camp infrastructure, a mammoth undertaking that can house as many as 450,000. “It’s like any other site-planning activity,” says Ron Redmond, a New York spokesman for UNHRC. “We work with NGOs (non-governmental help agencies) and the refugee communities themselves to accommodate their [religious] needs.”

Sometimes, Redmond reports, the request can be easily satisfied by simply erecting a tent the size of a warehouse for camp services. At other times, the worship sites may sport a religious symbol that dominates its camp surroundings.

A growing need

In any case, the need for temporary shelter – and houses of worship – has accelerated in recent years as the rush of refugees fleeing persecution and war continues to grow. UNHRC estimates that more than 28,000 people a day leave their homes because of violent upheavals, with an estimated 65.6 million displaced worldwide.

The growing need prompted former Yale students Lucas Boyd and Chad Greenlee to create a series of “pop-up” church designs, streamlined structures that could be easily erected yet still maintain the iconography associated with a particular faith community.

While their vision of fabric churches is a long way from Ban’s sturdy structures, there may be room for both in refugee camps. Officials point out that, not only does the refugee population continue to grow, but the stay in a camp can stretch out for years, if not decades.



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