Last week we had the opportunity to interview this year's Pritzker Prize winner, Shigeru Ban, within his Metal Shutters Houses in New York City. The Japanese architect, who was a member of the Pritzker jury from 2006-2009, gave us his thoughtful, humble response to receiving architecture's most prestigious prize, saying the win is an "encouragement for me to continue working to make great architecture as well as working in disaster areas."
When we asked him how he remains so committed to humanitarian efforts, balancing them with his other commissions, he explained: "I also like to make monuments because monuments can be wonderful treasures for the city, but also I knew many people were suffering after the natural disasters, and the government provided them very poor evacuation facilities and temporary housing. I believe I can make them better."
Read the entire interview transcript, in which Ban discusses his innovative use of materials and gives us a few anecdotes about studying in the US, after the break.
Shigeru Ban: I’m Shigeru Ban, I’m the founder of Shigeru Ban Architects. Now, I have offices in Tokyo, Paris, and New York. Also I’m the founder of an NGO, Voluntary Architects Network, working in disaster areas. Architecture is my life. And also something I enjoy the most.
ArchDaily: How do you see your role as an architect?
SB: When I was younger, when I was a student, no one was talking about working in a disaster area. I was quite disappointed when I became an architect, because mostly we are working for privileged people who have money and power and we are hired to visualize their power and money with monumental architecture. I also like to make monuments because monuments can be wonderful treasures for the city, but also I knew many people were suffering after the natural disasters, and the government provided them very poor evacuation facilities and temporary housing. I believe I can make them better. That’s really an important role for myself: to continue working in disaster areas.
ArchDaily: How did your interest in materials emerge?
SB: Actually, I don't like to be influenced by the fashionable style of the day. Always, in architecture, there are many styles that are fashionable or very popular, but I like architects like Frei Otto or Buckminster Fuller, who made their own styles. So when I made the paper/cardboard tube, it was quite strong, so I thought it could be a structural material. People normally think developing something new is more high tech, but even using raw material, humble material, the existing material around us, can be used as a structure--giving them more meaning and more function. So what I'm doing is not really inventing something new, i'm just using existing material around us as part of the building structure.
ArchDaily: Do you approach your pro-bono work the same way you approach your other commissions?
SB: There is no difference working for a normal building commission or the disaster relief projects I do as pro-bono. The only difference is if I'm paid the fee or not. For me, it's the same. Business-wise, it's quite difficult, actually. I spend lots of time on these pro-bono projects, but my first instruction is the same--building with a fee or not. And also, my partners are doing my projects together, so i can spend my on time on pro-bono projects, which is a very important role for me as an architect.
ArchDaily: What was your experience as an architecture student?
SB: After I finished high school I came to the US without speaking English. When I was in high school I wanted to go to Cooper Union. There was a Japanese magazine called A+U and in 1975 they had a special issue about John Hedjuk and Cooper Union, which made me want to come to the US. Nobody knew about Cooper Union, so I had to come to the US but they didn't accept foreign students. So I started first at Sci Arc and then I transferred to Cooper Union. I was very lucky as a result. I experienced both very unusual schools-- Sci Arc in the West Coast and Cooper in the East Coast. They are both very unusual schools with very strong leaders. I experienced both extremes in the West Coast and the East Coast. I had a special education with very good professors.
ArchDaily: What inspires you?
SB: I'm always amazed by the craft of the local people, wherever I go. Local craft and local materials impress me--to think about in design. Now, working in the Philipines after the earthquake and typhoon, still local people live in traditional houses with bamboo. Bamboo is used for structure and screens. I know that bamboo is such a difficult material to use as a structure by meeting the building regulation. But still there are many local, vernacular technologies used in the Philipines, so I tried to combine the paper tube, which is locally available, with a bamboo screen to design a temporary shelter for the victims of the typhoon.
ArchDaily: How do you feel about winning the Pritzker Prize?
SB: It’s such an honor, but I don’t know how to understand the situation yet. Because I feel it’s too early for me, because I have not achieved a certain level as an architect yet. So I’m taking this as a kind of encouragement for me to continue working to make great architecture as well as working in disaster areas. Also, I’d like to continue teaching. Education is a very important part of my activities. Even now, I don't know the meaning of receiving this award yet, all I can tell you is that I don't want to be changed. I just want to keep doing the same thing.