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  1. ArchDaily
  2. News
  3. Spotlight: Shigeru Ban

Spotlight: Shigeru Ban

Spotlight: Shigeru Ban
Spotlight: Shigeru Ban, Aspen Art Museum. Image © Michael Moran
Aspen Art Museum. Image © Michael Moran

Shigeru Ban (born August 5th 1957) is a Japanese architect who won the 2014 Pritzker Prize for his significant contributions in architectural innovation and philanthropy. His ability to re-apply conventional knowledge in differing contexts has resulted in a breadth of work that is characterized by structural sophistication and unconventional techniques and materials. Ban has used these innovations not only to create beautiful architecture but as a tool to help those in need, by creating fast, economical, and sustainable housing solutions for the homeless and the displaced. As the Pritzker jury cites: “Shigeru Ban is a tireless architect whose work exudes optimism.”

Nine Bridges Country Club. Image © Hiroyuki Hirai Oita Prefectural Art Museum. Image © Hiroyuki Hirai La Seine Musicale. Image © Boegly + Grazia photographers Curtain Wall House. Image © Hiroyuki Hirai + 17

Courtesy of Shigeru Ban Architects
Courtesy of Shigeru Ban Architects

Born in Tokyo to a businessman father who enjoyed classical music, and a mother who designed haute couture clothing, Ban was exposed to a creative environment. He grew up in a Japanese wooden house that was often being renovated by carpenters, which sparked the child’s fascination for traditional carpentry. As a teenager, Ban originally intended to attend the Tokyo University of the Arts, until he came across an article on John Hejduk. The distinguished architect was then a dean of the Cooper Union’s School of Architecture in New York. The models and plans of unbuilt buildings by this "paper architect" were revolutionary for the young Shigeru Ban and would ultimately influence his decision to study architecture at Cooper Union.

Aspen Art Museum. Image © Michael Moran
Aspen Art Museum. Image © Michael Moran

In 1977, Ban travelled to California to learn English and to attend the Southern California Institute of the Architecture (SCI-arc). This was the only way that he could attend Cooper Union as the school did not accept international students at the time. There, Ban took interest in the Case Study Houses, many of which showed traces of the influence of traditional Japanese architecture. Ban began attending Cooper Union in 1980 as a transfer student where he would meet his future partner, Dean Maltz, as a classmate. He was taught by Ricardo Scofidio, Tod Williams, Bernard Tschumi, Peter Eisenman, and John Hejduk. Before graduating in 1984, he took a year of absence from his studies to work at Arata Isozaki’s office in Tokyo. He also accompanied the photographer Yukio Fukagawa on a trip to Europe, where he would be impressed with the materials of Alvar Aalto’s architecture in Finland.

Nomadic Museum, Santa Monica. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/paolomazzoleni/248929123'>Flickr user paolomazzoleni</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>
Nomadic Museum, Santa Monica. Image © Flickr user paolomazzoleni licensed under CC BY 2.0

The effect of Ban’s upbringing and early life experiences can be seen in the development of his architectural projects. When Ban started his own practice in 1985, he had no prior working experience; he spent this first year designing installations for various exhibitions as the curator of Axis Gallery in Tokyo. For an installation exhibiting Alvar Aalto’s work, he developed and utilized paper-tube structures, which has since become a recurring theme in his work. Around the same time, he also designed a series of Case Study Houses (PC Pile House, House of Double Roof, Furniture House, Curtain Wall House, 2/5 House, Wall-Less House, and Naked House) which reflected the experimental nature of domestic architecture in his native country.

Curtain Wall House. Image © Hiroyuki Hirai
Curtain Wall House. Image © Hiroyuki Hirai

Ban’s developments in architecture focused on experimental approaches to materials and structural systems. In many cases, he uses ordinary materials such as paper, wood, fabric, and shipping containers, to assemble buildings in extraordinary ways. He used shipping containers as a building material for the Nomadic Museum, and applied traditional joinery techniques to create the Tamedia Office Building in Zurich; the building’s interlocking timber structural system is completely devoid of joint hardware and glue. Ban’s unconventional approach leads to an elegant simplicity and apparent effortlessness in his work, a quality seen best in the Centre Pompidou-Metz in Paris, a competition he won in 2001.

Tamedia Office Building. Image © Didier Boy de la Tour
Tamedia Office Building. Image © Didier Boy de la Tour

In the 1990s Ban realized that his innovations could be used to improve the lives of displaced refugees and victims of natural calamities. In 1994, he proposed his paper-tube shelters to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, where he was subsequently hired as a consultant. After a few temporary housing projects, Ban established the NGO Voluntary Architects’ Network (VAN) to start disaster relief activities, providing assistance in Turkey, India, Sri Lanka, China, Italy, Haiti and Japan among other countries. His paper-tube structures proved to be cheap, easy to assemble and most importantly customizable.

Centre Pompidou Metz. Image © Didier Boy de la Tour
Centre Pompidou Metz. Image © Didier Boy de la Tour

See all of Shigeru Ban's work featured on ArchDaily via the thumbnails below, and more coverage of Ban below those:

Nine Bridges Country Club. Image © Hiroyuki Hirai Camper's House of Shoes / Shigeru Ban Architects. Image © Marian Montoro Metal Shutter Houses / Shigeru Ban Architects + Dean Maltz Architect. Image © Michael Moran Aspen Art Museum. Image © Michael Moran JR Onagawa Station. Image © Hiroyuki Hirai IE Paper Pavilion. Image © FG+SG Tamedia Office Building. Image © Didier Boy de la Tour Villa Vista. Image © Hiroyuki Hirai Nomadic Museum, Santa Monica. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/paolomazzoleni/248929123'>Flickr user paolomazzoleni</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a> Centre Pompidou Metz. Image © Didier Boy de la Tour Post-Tsunami Housing. Image © Dominic Sansoni Oita Prefectural Art Museum. Image © Hiroyuki Hirai Aspen Art Museum. Image © Michael Moran Nine Bridges Country Club. Image © Hiroyuki Hirai + 17

Shigeru Ban Named Pritzker Laureate for 2014

Post 3 Gallery 1

15 Things You Didn't Know About Shigeru Ban

Material Masters: Shigeru Ban's Work With Wood

Shigeru Ban on Growing Up, Carpentry, and Cardboard Tubes

Archiculture Interviews: Shigeru Ban

Shigeru Ban's "Kooky" Architecture: Just What the World Needs?

TEDxTokyo: Emergency Shelters Made from Paper / Shigeru Ban

Shigeru Ban to Design Up to 20,000 New Homes for Refugees in Kenya

Cite: Jan Doroteo. "Spotlight: Shigeru Ban" 05 Aug 2017. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/792108/spotlight-shigeru-ban/> ISSN 0719-8884
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Aspen Art Museum. Image © Michael Moran

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