written by:
March 25, 2014
2014 Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban’s body of work is a showcase of spatial and material innovation.
Cardboard Cathedral (Christchurch, New Zealand: 2013)
Cardboard Cathedral (Christchurch, New Zealand: 2013)

After a massive earthquake destroyed this New Zealand town’s landmark 19th-century cathedral in 2011, Ban crafted an A-frame out of cardboard tubing and shipping containers, a landmark example of his “emergency architecture.” In another nod to resiliency and symbolic rebirth, the stained glass triangle at the front of the church incorporates imagery from the former cathedral’s famous rose window.

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Centre Pompidou-Metz (Metz, France: 2010)
Centre Pompidou-Metz (Metz, France: 2010)

Capped with a laminated wooden roof that looks like a stretched plastic skin, Ban’s gallery design offers an undulating series of curves that are as beautiful as the works preserved underneath.

Credit: Alexandre Prévot, Creative Commons

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Metal Shutters House (New York, USA: 2008)
Metal Shutters House (New York, USA: 2008)

Ban’s attached his own signature to the growing cadre of Manhattan condominiums designed by acclaimed architects with this Chelsea project. Between the motorized metal shutters and a series of sliding glass doors on the first floor, these duplex units play with concepts of space and light.

Credit: Forgemind Archimedia, Creative Commons

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Paper Log House (Kobe, Japan: 1995)
Paper Log House (Kobe, Japan: 1995)

These 16-square-meter structures elegantly proved Ban’s cardboard concept; tubing could be used as load-bearing structures, and could be made both waterproof and flame-resistant. Beer crates were used for support. Ban supposedly picked Kirin because the label colors were a better match. This design has since been used for disaster relief in India and Turkey. Credit: Forgemind Archimedia, Creative Commons

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Tamedia Office Building (Zurich, Switzerland: 2013)
Tamedia Office Building (Zurich, Switzerland: 2013)

At a glance, this airy box of a building may look like a typical office for a media conglomerate, with bold, open windows looking out over the nearby river. But the skeleton of this structure, built from a series of wooden pieces the required no joints or glue, suggests a much deeper level of craftsmanship and care, as do the numerous features, such as groundwater heating and cooling system, that make it a model of environmental design.

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Curtain Wall House (Tokyo, Japan: 1995)
Curtain Wall House (Tokyo, Japan: 1995)

Taking the idea of an outer wall, and the concept of a shoji screen, to an extreme end, Ban wrapped the open triangular space of this contemporary home with large drapes, which provide an almost surreal quiet in and separation from the vast metropolis.

Credit: Forgemind Archimedia, Creative Commons

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Nicolas G. Hayek Center (Tokyo, Japan: 2008)
Nicolas G. Hayek Center (Tokyo, Japan: 2008)

How do you create retail frontage for seven different Swatch group brands when the building you’re working with is only 56-feet wide? Shigeru Ban solved this challenge by stacking stores on top of each other in this Tokyo boutique, and then creating a small series of ground floor showrooms with individual elevators only linking to the specific brand. It’s a structure that works like clockwork, a fitting design for the boutique watchmaker.

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Nomadic Museum (New York, USA: 2005)
Nomadic Museum (New York, USA: 2005)

Constructed from shipping containers, this temporary art housing has become a traveling exhibit; the paper tubes are packed up in between showings in a spare shipping container, moved to the next city, and then used to set up shop with rented containers from that area. It was first used to house the 'Ashes and Snow' photography and film exhibition by Gregory Colbert at the West Piers in Manhattan.

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Naked House (Kawagoe, Japan: 2000)
Naked House (Kawagoe, Japan: 2000)

It’s modular housing that creates a modular lifestyle between family members and different generations. The radical open floor plan boasts cubical room units on wheels, which can be moved to suit the mood and situation. It’s an incredible design that luckily never was adapted by a reality television producer.

Credit: Forgemind Archimedia, Creative Commons

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Shigeru Ban new housing prototype

In 2013, Ban’s office introduced its new disaster housing prototype, the New Temporary House, whose exterior is made of insulated sandwich panels and fiber-reinforced plastic.

Courtesy of 
Hiroyuki Hirai
Originally appeared in Q&A with Japanese Architect Shigeru Ban
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Shigeru Ban interior design

The Japanese brand Muji will begin selling his kit house in 2014, which is prefabricated using furniture (i.e. storage units) as load-bearing modules. House of Furniture’s exterior looks more like a pavilion than a box.

Courtesy of 
Nacasa & Partners, Inc.
Originally appeared in Q&A with Japanese Architect Shigeru Ban
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Cardboard Cathedral (Christchurch, New Zealand: 2013)
Cardboard Cathedral (Christchurch, New Zealand: 2013)

After a massive earthquake destroyed this New Zealand town’s landmark 19th-century cathedral in 2011, Ban crafted an A-frame out of cardboard tubing and shipping containers, a landmark example of his “emergency architecture.” In another nod to resiliency and symbolic rebirth, the stained glass triangle at the front of the church incorporates imagery from the former cathedral’s famous rose window.

“It’s not the award for achievement. I have not made a great achievement.”

Shigeru Ban, the 56-year-old Japanese architect and most recent Pritzker Prize winner, came off as modest as his buildings when he spoke to The New York Times about his recent award. Since his beginnings in Tokyo in 1985, Ban has been recognized for his insightful and innovative use of material, especially a focus on low-cost cardboard and paper for the construction of relief shelters around the world.

The aims and artistry of Ban’s shelter designs are what makes them so extraordinary. The materials are, in a sense, immaterial; the warmth of a church nave, like the one he created whole cloth from cardboard tubing in New Zealand after an earthquake leveled the town cathedral, has nothing to do with the clever use of a cheap substitute. It’s the speed at which Ban recognized people’s relationship to structures, and the elegance of the solution, one that went further than a slapdash substitute. One of Ban’s core insights, that architects don’t determine the permanence of a structure, rings especially true. While his body of work incorporates extraordinary modern art museums (Centre Pompidou-Metz) and fancy condominiums, the ease at which he creates fantastic, useful spaces for those most in need suggests an architect in touch with his audience.

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