Shigeru Ban, Cardboard Cathedral 2013, is an important example of disaster relief home. Image courtesy of Aspen Art Museum
ASPEN, COLORADO — Presently at the Aspen Art Museum is an exhibition featuring the works of Shigeru Ban, one of the most innovative architects of the 21st century. Titled Shigeru Ban: Humanitarian Architecture, the exhibition looks at the creative genius of this architect who has devoted himself to humanitarian efforts, by exploring architectural design in a way that brings shelter, succor and disaster relief to victims of earthquakes, tsunami, hurricanes, and wars.
Shigeru Ban: Humanitarian Architecture allows a look into the fascinating and inspiring component of Ban’s architectural practice with full-scale examples of his groundbreaking designs. Selected by Ban and Aspen Art Museum Nancy and Bob Magoon CEO and Director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, the exhibition brings to the fore examples of how creative architectural designs can be implemented to benefit a large population of people who have suffered adversities.
An architect with an eye for details, Ban designed the exhibition himself with the intention of presenting not just a global view of disasters, but also how locally and commonly found materials can be used as disaster relief for victims of disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami, hurricanes, and war. With his exhibition design, Ban seems to be presenting the argument that you do not need some gigantic or sophisticated edifices to be able to help people in need. That argument is supported by many of the innovative architectural designs he has implemented in different parts of the world to aid people afflicted by natural and man-made disasters.
Looking through his architectural design oeuvre, it is clear that Ban is an unusual architect who explores unconventional materials to great effect in his designs. Ban combines common materials such as paper tubes, shipping containers, bamboo, fabric, paper, and composites of recycled paper fiber and plastics to create innovative structures and designs. One great example of his use of unconventional materials is evident in Paper Emergency Shelter. Paper Emergency Shelter was created for the United Nations Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Byumba Refugee Camp Rwanda 1994-1999. During the conflict in Rwanda, many people were driven from the comfort of their homes into tragic living condition. When Ban was called into consultant on the best way to help the Rwanda refugees, he proposed paper-tube shelters. The result is a shelter made of reusable and recyclable materials that served the Rwanda refugees well.
The Byumba Refugee Camp Rwanda marked Ban’s incursion into humanitarian architecture. It was followed by another project in Japan. After the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, Ban again donated his time and talents. In Kobe, Ban used recycle materials to create shelter for Japanese who had been displaced by the devastating earthquake. His first project at Kobe was the Paper Log House. The foundation of Paper Log House was created from beer crates filled with sandbags donated by inhabitants. For the walls of the houses, Ban lined up paper cardboard tubes vertically. The house not only ensured the safety of the people, it also stabilized those that survived the terrible natural disaster, giving them hope for a better future. In addition to the shelters, Ban also helped the people fulfill their spiritual need by designing a Paper Church which is also part of the show at the Aspen Art Museum. The church was created with paper tubes. In 2008, the church was disassembled and sent to Taiwan where it was reconstructed.
Many of Ban’s architectural designs and projects in disasters zones are a result of collaborative effort. In all the places he has visited to create disaster relief shelters, Ban has engaged the people from the community, including victims. Working with local citizens, volunteers, and students, Ban has constructed simple habitable design, dignified, low-cost, recyclable shelters and community buildings for the disaster victims. It is in the effort to further include locals and victims to get these disaster relief projects built that he in 1995 founded Voluntary Architects’ Network (VAN), a non-governmental organization (NGO). With VAN, Ban has conducted work in Japan, Turkey, India, Sri Lanka, China, Haiti, Italy, New Zealand, and the Philippines as he followed disasters earthquakes, tsunami, hurricanes, and war.
Born in a Tokyo 56-year-old, Ban was recently awarded the 2014 Pritzker, the most prestigious award for architects. Ban got his award not just for his brilliant elegant, innovative work for private clients, both also for his inventive and resourceful design approach for his extensive humanitarian efforts. Although Ban has created great architectural pieces for clients across the globe, what has stood him out from other architects is his innovative use of architectural design to bring relief and help to major points of disasters across the globe. For more than twenty years, Ban has been traveling to sites of natural and man-made disasters around the world to work with local citizens, volunteers, and students, to design and construct simple, dignified, low-cost, recyclable shelters and community buildings for disaster victims.
It is for his work in humanitarian activities that AAM is celebrating this great architect. In many of the works on display at the Aspen Art Museum, viewers are presented with not just the finished works but the process. In many of these architectural disasters relief shelters projects, Ban employs readily available, inexpensive and easy to transport materials like recyclable cardboard paper tubes for columns, walls and beams. These materials are easy to mount and dismantle. The materials can also be water- and fire-proofed, and recycled.
In announcing Shigeru Ban as the 2014 Pritzker award winner, Tom Pritzker said, “Shigeru Ban’s commitment to humanitarian causes through his disaster relief work is an example for all. Innovation is not limited by building type and compassion is not limited by budget. Shigeru has made our world a better place.”
Shigeru Ban: Humanitarian Architecture at the Aspen Art Museum is a reminder that disasters are constantly happening around the globe, and every effort must be made to help victims of earthquakes, tsunami, hurricanes, wars and other natural disasters. Ban’s architectural designs in disaster zones have been remarkable in providing shelter and succor to disaster victims. Paper Log House, for instance, has continued to be replicated across the globe to help victims of disasters. Four years after it was first constructed in Kobe, Paper Log House was transformed to meet the needs of earthquake victims in Turkey. Soon after, it was used in India in 2001 after the country was hit by a devastating earthquake. There is no doubt that based on the success of Ban’s architectural designs in disaster zone, helping disasters victims does not require some sophisticated edifice.