“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.