Critics and Peers Comment on Shigeru Ban's Pritzker Prize

Yesterday we asked some prominent critics and a few of Ban's peers to weigh in on the Japanese architect's Pritzker win. Curators, architects, and writers praised Ban's approach and conviction, describing what Ban's work signifies to the architecture community. Read on for comments from Architecture for Humanity co-founder Cameron Sinclair, MoMA curators Barry Bergdoll and Pedro Gadanho, Cooper Union classmates Nanako Umemoto and Jesse Reiser, of Reiser + Umemototo, and more.

"We are very proud of Shigeru as the first Pritzker Prize Winner to have graduated from Cooper Union. Shigeru continues to embody the independent thinking that was highly emphasized through our education. We met Shigeru in 1979, and can speak to his dedication to humanity from the beginning. As we recall, each design problem for Shigeru became an occasion to explore the work of what he considered to be the master architects as a way of developing his own voice. It has become fashionable to connect architecture to social causes; however, Shigeru has never seen it as a trend, but rather something fundamental to his design practice. Unlike those in the discipline who conflate their social and political commitments with architecture, he happens to be a very fine architect. As a result of his education abroad and his inclination to define a unique practice, Shigeru has always been viewed as an independent within the Japanese scene. We are very excited that Shigeru's work is being honored."
- Nanako Umemoto and Jesse Reiser
Founders of Reiser + Umemototo, RUR Architecture PC

"I’m personally thrilled for Mr. Ban but even more for the idea that our role is more just about form making. We have reached a moment in history when we have the ability to build any structure, use any material and work in any part of the world. The humanitarian design movement is not about excluding high design but expanding our talents and services not just for those who can afford it but to those who need it most. Shigeru has successfully balanced these two worlds with elegance and grace."
- Cameron Sinclair
Co-founder of Architecture for Humanity

"Shigeru Ban's selection not only continues the focus of the Pritzker Prize on the extraordinary creative and incisive design intelligence of the architectural profession in Japan, but signals a shift to bring to the fore social consciousness in the profession. Ban has made his name in a world of brand names with an anti-brand: an architecture that responds gracefully and economically to both the ongoing challenges of global inequality and to the sudden desperate needs of dwelling and community in the wake of natural disasters largely through temporary structures. So apparently simple -- and with the use of paper sometimes counter-intuitive -- have been Ban's designs now for over two decades, that it is too easily forgotten how sophisticated they are in terms of structural and material experimentation and innovation, from his temporary roofing of MoMA's sculpture garden in 2000 with paper tubes, to his creation of a numinous space for worship in replacing the cathedral of Christchurch, NZ, the veritable symbol of the city severely damaged by the 2011 earthquake. Ban's brilliance is to combine an ongoing architectural exploration with a social and humanitarian commitment, bridging thus not only spaces but positions in the design world that are too often seen as polar opposites."
- Barry Bergdoll
Curator of Architecture, The Museum of Modern Art

"As the Pritzker Prize continues to look eastward and reiterates once again the vibrancy of Japan's contemporary architecture, Shigeru Ban represents the avant-garde of an emerging global attitude: he was one of the first major international architects to combine social engagement with architectural innovation, and he did so in a way that is exemplary and still relevant to the field's advancement today."
- Pedro Gadanho
Curator of Contemporary Architecture, The Museum of Modern Art

“As a Japanese architect, one aspect I personally connect with is the fact that he studied abroad and has since been operating globally. His work within the architecture industry has a wide range - from disaster relief to world-class cultural institutions to private residences. His application of a consistent technique to such a wide spectrum is something I admire.”
- Shohei Shigematsu
Partner, OMA

"Shigeru Ban has brought design ingenuity to the service of humanitarian causes. Socially conscious architecture rarely gets any praise for its contribution to the field. Shigeru's work does that with an economy of means, lightness of touch, and great sense of beauty. It is good that the Pritzker Jury has discovered Japan."
- Mohsen Mostafavi
Dean, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

"What is interesting about Shigeru's work, and where it resonates with some contemporary interests, is that it is more about materiality, construction, innovation and ideas than about design. Shigeru's work has a naïveté and directness about it that resists both the commercial and the academic conventions and connects the work directly to a wider public and to an ephemeral sensibility, which borders the "povera." Whether it is by using cardboard structures, curtain enclosures, shutter facades or tensile roofs, the work consistently explores a repertoire of materials which is radical and engaged, and connects to the interests of a younger generation of architects."
- Alejandro Zaera-Polo
Dean, Princeton University School of Architecture

"Shigeru Ban's work fundamentally takes on architecture's biggest paradoxes, as it is both simple and rich, poetic and engineered, temporary and monumental. His early and visionary fascination with both the structural as well as the expressive quality of materials such as cardboard and bamboo are now of crucial importance for the emergence of a light, recyclable and adaptable architecture. Shigeru Ban's engagement in a wide spectrum of architectural programs, from humanitarian shelter to iconic museums, not only shows that simple architectural structures can create an incredible richness in spatial forms and experiences but also that architecture begins where the basic needs for shelter ends."
- Nanne de Ru
Director of The Berlage

"Ban always tries to deliver communal spaces that can be used in ways that transcend the program of the building--as can be seen in a formally rich project like the Pompidou Metz, or in the simple materially of the Cardboard Cathedral in New Zealand. His understanding of what it means to serve humanity is not solely based on a relationship between the user and program. He empathizes with people and understands their needs. He is a sensitive architect that connects with people through his humanitarian pursuits and approaches his disaster relief-design with the same passion as he approaches all of his work. The projects are not only responsibly designed, but they advance architecture with their capacity to inspire more architects to follow his lead."
- David Basulto
Editor-in-Chief of ArchDaily

"Looking at the handicapping for the prize this year I thought Shigeru Ban was the likeliest winner, but for the fact that another Japanese architect won last year. His work combines extreme beauty and extreme need, a rare combination of satisfying both the Pritzker's traditional emphasis on personal aesthetic style and contemporary architecture's interest in socially engaged practice. He also honors the engineering tradition of architecture, as last year's winner Toyo Ito does, in his references to Buckminster Fuller and his collaboration with Frei Otto on the cardboard net structure for the Japan Pavilion in Hannover. I love that the jury mentioned his Curtain Wall House, which I remember seeing and admiring in the MoMA Light Construction exhibit. Terry Riley was an excellent talent-spotter. If there is a message in Ban's win, or if I could choose a message, it would be that architects don't need to choose between making a rigorous, elegant architecture and making architecture for clients and places that have rigorous needs. Look at the materials we have and make something that does more."
- Alexandra Lange
Architecture & Design Critic

"Shigeru Ban is one of the most talented contemporary architects, especially given his incredible work with materials and structures for responding to emergency situations. In 2002, in Berlin, I participated in a competition in which my project Gama-Issa House made it to the final selection alongside Shigeru Ban's Naked House. On the night of the gala the presenters read the jury's announcement and they decided that Naked House was more innovative. I was happy with the result and I in was in that moment that I began to love that project of Shigeru. I went to congratulate him but it wasn't easy for us to speak in English. He only understood the compliments. The award of the Pritzker Prize to Shigeru Ban is deserved and reflects the incredible work of an entire generation of Japanese architects."
- Marcio Kogan
Brazilian Architect and Founder of Studio MK27

"The Pritzker to Ban is a serious recognition of the millions who have so far not been entitled to architecture. A calling perhaps to architects in the developing world to celebrate their own 'temporary' buildings."
- Gautam Bhatia
Architecture Author and Critic

"A relentless experimenter, he has (often quite literally) pushed the envelope beyond common assumptions of domesticity, materiality, structure and -- above all -- architecture's duty to serve humankind. To me, Shigeru Ban is that kind of singular fanatic who, like Buckminster Fuller and Frei Otto, inspires us to undeterredly direct all energy and resources at our disposal to effect the maximum positive benefit."
- Alastair Townsend
Tokyo-based Architect

About this author
Cite: Becky Quintal. "Critics and Peers Comment on Shigeru Ban's Pritzker Prize" 25 Mar 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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