Long before sustainability became a buzzword, architect Shigeru Ban had begun his experiments with ecologically-sound building materials such as cardboard tubes and paper. His remarkable structures are often intended as temporary housing, designed to help the dispossessed in disaster-struck nations such as Haiti, Rwanda or Japan. Yet equally often the buildings remain a beloved part of the landscape long after they have served their intended purpose. Most people look at cardboard tubes and see something fit for the recycling bin. But architect Shigeru Ban turns them into beautiful buildings.
Emergency shelters made from paper by Shigeru Ban at TED
More about Shigeru Ban
Shigeru Ban’s architecture redefines aesthetics, space, structure and even the idea of permanence. In 1986, for the Alvar Aalto Exhibition near Tokyo, Ban experimented with constructing a building from long paper tubes, the kind found at textile factories. The tubes ended up being much stronger than he had imagined, and were easier to waterproof and fireproof than he had guessed. Ban created many experimental buildings in this vein — from the Japanese Pavilion at Expo 2000 in Germany, which was meant to be recycled upon demolition, and an office for himself and his students set atop the Pompidou Centre in Paris, where they worked for six years.
But Ban’s unusual designs have found another use — as emergency shelters for those who have lost their homes in disasters and wars. In 1994, Ban created shelters for refugees in Rwanda. The next year, after an earthquake in Japan, he rebuilt a local church out of paper tubes that became a local fixture for 10 years. His designs — both low-cost, and dignity-building — have housed those affected by disasters in Taiwan, China, Haiti, Turkey and Sri Lanka. He also helped develop a shelter system after the Japanese tsunami of 2011.
The founder of Shigeru Ban Architects, Ban has received many awards, including the Architectural Institute of Japan Prize. He currently teaches at Kyoto University of Art and Design.