WHEN the Japanese "disaster architect" Shigeru Ban offered to design, pro bono, a temporary "Cardboard Cathedral" for Christchurch after an earthquake struck two years ago, it seemed God really was on the side of the shattered New Zealand city after all.
The quake claimed 185 lives and badly damaged the city's landmark, 19th-century Christ Church Cathedral, once the principal place of worship for Anglicans and the city's most recognisable tourism symbol.
But as Christchurch embarks on its multi-billion-dollar rebuild, an unholy debate has erupted about the virtues of the project.
Critics believe the funds being spent on the building should be allocated to the restoration of the original cathedral, now a forlorn, broken shell in Christchurch's no-go zone.
And New Zealand's High Court last year ruled it may not be legal for the Anglican diocese to use money from its insurance payout to fund the interim cathedral.
Ban's remarkable church, to be made of nearly 100 cardboard tubes - giant "loo paper rolls" as one local dubbed them - is intended to be a transitional venue for religious services as well as providing conference space for the tourism-dependent city.
The head of the Christchurch diocese, Bishop Victoria Matthews, defends the decision to build the Cardboard Cathedral, since restoring the bricks-and-mortar cathedral, or building a new one, "doesn't happen overnight".
"[The Cardboard Cathedral] is a remarkably sophisticated building," she says. "It's more than just a simple A-frame … Worship is what we're all about. But when you have a city that has gone through what Christchurch has gone through there was a great desire to give a gift of hope."
Ban has also designed buildings for quake-affected communities in Japan and Taiwan.
Work continues on his "fast-build" cathedral opposite the levelled site of the CTV Building in Christchurch, where most of the quake fatalities occurred. It's due for completion at Easter.
Ban's cardboard tubes have been strengthened as a cautionary measure against another quake. The relatively inexpensive tubes then will be protected from the elements by polycarbonate sheeting.
The budget for the building was $NZ5.3 million ($4.3 million), to be partly funded by $NZ4 million of insurance money, but the cost has risen to $NZ5.9 million. Bishop Matthews is hoping for divine intervention from across the ditch. In the meantime, a fortune has been saved on architect fees as Ban is only charging his travel costs.
Donations towards the cathedral can be made at cardboardcathedral.org.nz. The writer was a guest of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism and Air New Zealand.