The South Island’s largest city, Christchurch suffered devastation after two major earthquakes in September 2010 and again in February 2011 with 185 people losing their lives from collapsed buildings and falling debris. It was New Zealand’s second deadliest natural disaster since the arrival of European settlers to the country. The deadliest was also an earthquake which killed 256 people in the Hawke’s Bay in 1931.

christchurch church1Ruined Christchurch Cathedral Today

After the Christchurch quakes, 3000 inner city buildings were declared damaged and unsafe while a further 1240 were demolished leaving the city with gaping holes awaiting re-construction. One of the greatest building losses was the collapse of the city’s iconic Anglican Cathedral.

Dating from 1864 and built in the centre of the city surrounded by the square that bares its name, the cathedral remains a ruin while a decision is made on its future. A heated debate continues between those who want the building restored to its original splendor, and those who feel it’s time to move on and replace it with something else. The debate has great significance as Christchurch is known as ‘the Cathedral City’ so the city’s very identity is tied up in the fate of the cathedral.


In the meantime, it was decided a temporary church was needed to hold services and the various meetings that the stone structure had been used for. The church authorities turned to Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban who quickly came up with a design made from a variety of materials including cardboard tubes.

Shigeru is known for his work with paper and cardboard and rose to prominence after designing temporary housing made of re-cycled materials which can be quickly assembled to house those made homeless after natural disasters.

Work started on the ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ as it has become known, in July 2012 and it opened just 13 months later in August 2013 in the city’s devastated centre. A total of 96 cardboard tubes, coated in fire retardant, along with wood and glass, form the roof and are the building’s main feature. The top point of the inverted ‘v’ shape of the roof rises 21 metres (69ft) above the floor. The side walls are made of shipping containers. Timber and steel are also used to give strength to the building. The modestly sized structure comfortably holds 700 parishioners. Stained glass windows have been included to give the building the feel of a church. While many of Christchurch’s quake damaged buildings are still uninhabitable, the ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ is open for business and apart from worship, is also used for conferences and meetings until the city fully recovers from its earthquake destruction.

cardboard church3Cardboard Cathedral Exterior and Interior


Also located in the South Island, Ferntree Lodge is Dunedin’s oldest surviving house and the only dwelling in New Zealand built from the trunks of fern trees. Remarkably, the unusual house is still occupied.

Ferntree LodgeFerntree Lodge

Built in 1849 just a year following the settlement of New Zealand’s oldest city, the quaint cottage, with its medieval appearance, was best known as the home of the Thomson family, whose mineral waters and soft drinks were once on most tables in Dunedin. In 1902, the building was extended into two separate houses linked by a billiards room and a shared entrance, increasing the cottage into a substantial house with 20 rooms.

I have been inside this unique house and the first thing I noticed was the smell. The dry fern trees gave off a light sweetness which was rather appealing. When I gave the walls a close inspection I was somewhat surprised to see small spiders and other little creepy crawlies that had made home in the trunks. However, it only reinforced the truly organic nature of Ferntree Lodge.


William Thompson, the eldest son, became a botanist and lived at Ferntree Cottage, as it was then called. He developed an impressive ten acre woodland garden with the lodge as the main attraction. He had a passion for plants and spent as much time as he could on expeditions around the country searching for new plants to add to his beloved garden. After William died, the property passed from the family. In the 1970s the house and grounds slipped into disrepair after a failed attempt to turn it into a tavern. In 1980, the Dunedin City Council completed some general upgrading to stop further decay. Ferntree Lodge is now restored to its original enchanting condition and is in private ownership.

This very special relic of New Zealand’s pioneering era defies the sceptics who believe that to be permanent, a house must be built of stone or brick. Unfortunately, the famed garden no longer exists. The land has been handed over to urban development.

As for the cardboard cathedral in Christchurch, I don’t think it will enjoy the longevity of Ferntree Lodge but in the meantime, it will be perfect for the job it was built to do for a city that continues to struggle with a lack of buildings in the aftermath of the recent earthquakes.


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