Cardboard – The Earthquake-Proof Building Material of the Future?

Throughout time, buildings have fallen apart due to natural disasters. Since 1986, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban attempted to shed light on a building material that has proven to be able to withstand at least one of these disasters: earthquakes.

Ban first expressed an interest in using non-traditional building materials for disaster relief shelter projects in 1986. Following a natural disaster, traditional building materials such as steel, wood, and concrete are limited, whereas paper is widely found. Ban quickly learned of the latter’s strong structural integrity, which was in fact similar to that of wood boards more commonly used in construction projects. Over the past several decades, Ban created his trademark minimalist designs with paper (typically, cardboard tubing) in order to demonstrate the economic implications of cardboard building, the recyclability of the product, and most importantly, the inherent strength of the material.

shutterstock_82080655-resized-600In 2011, the devastating 6.3 quake that hit Christchurch, New Zealand provided a tragic yet perfect opportunity to showcase his cardboard building theories. One of the most notorious images following the disaster  was of the destruction that hit Christchurch Cathedral – a building located in the center of the city since the second half of the 19th century. The cathedral sustained previous damage from earthquakes in 1881, 1888, 1901, 1922, and 2010, but the damage from the February 2011 quake would prove to be more than could be repaired. In February 2012, the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority declared that the building would be demolished rather than restored. Many residents of the city protested the decision, and demolition was temporarily halted in December 2012.

In July 2013, the court determined that demolition should continue in order to allow for a new cathedral to be built on the site. In the meantime, Ban has provided the city with a new cathedral that is expected to last for more than 10 years – made entirely of cardboard! This structure is not meant to replace the demolished Christchurch Cathedral, but rather to act as a place for citizens to gather while a permanent structure is designed and actually built. To tie the neo-Gothic feeling of the original cathedral to the ultra-modern cardboard cathedral, Ban included a large mosaic of triangular colored plates of glass – each one etched with an image from the façade of the original building.

As natural disasters are becoming more frequent, finding common materials that can be translated into disaster resistant building materials will be an important function in architecture, construction, and overall property maintenance. While the cardboard building style will likely not translate well into the next shopping mall going into your neighborhood, the original concept used for disaster shelters could easily be applied to residential housing. At MRI, we create software to help maintain and manage your properties. We’ve previously discussed how MRI and Workspeed can keep you on-line to manage your properties during a disaster, but perhaps moving forward you may want to invest in cardboard to take care of building repairs!

Editor’s Note: The thoughts of MRI’s staff are with those affected by the earthquake in Wellington on August 16th. If you would like to help in the relief efforts, contact the Marlborough District Council.


MRI OnLocation NYC Monthly Commentary – May 2024

Encouraging news for NYC retail hubs as pedestrian traffic jumps month over month Each month MRI OnLocation delivers insights on retail performance for downtowns. Pedestrian traffic in NYC retail hubs rebounded in May compared to April, representing …

View the Insights

Related Resources

Industry Event

BOMA International

Find out more

Select your region