Shigeru Ban

Shigeru BanShigeru Ban (? ? Ban Shigeru) (born 1957) is an accomplished Japanese and international architect, most famous for his innovative work with paper, particularly recycled cardboard paper tubes used to quickly and efficiently house disaster victims. Shigeru Ban was the winner in 2005 at age 48 of the 40th annual Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He was profiled by Time Magazine in their projection of 21st century innovators in the field of architecture and design.

Early life and education

Shigeru Ban was born in Tokyo, Japan. He studied at the Southern California Institute of Architecture and later went on to Cooper Union's School of Architecture where he studied under John Hejduk and graduated in 1984. Hejduk was a part of the New York Five. From Hejduk, Ban not only learned fundamental elements of architecture, but also gained an interest in ‘architectonic poetics’ or the creation of three-dimensional poetry. Hejduk, the most experimentally minded of the New York Five, had a lasting influence on Ban, whose work has continuing explorations into basic geometric elements. Ban's formal explorations with basic building materials helped to lead him into unique structural solutions.

Design approach

For Ban, one of the most important themes in his work is the “invisible structure”. That is, he doesn't overtly express his structural elements, but rather chooses to incorporate it into the design. Ban is not interested in the ‘newest’ materials and techniques, but rather the expression of the concept behind his building. The materials he chooses to use are deliberately chosen for how they aid the building to do so.
Ban entertains several schools of architecture, first he is a Japanese architect and uses many themes and methods found in traditional Japanese architecture (such as sh?ji) and the idea of a ‘universal floor’ to allow continuity between all rooms in a house. In his buildings, this translates to a floor without change in elevation. By choosing to study under Hejduk, Ban opted to do something different. Hejduk’s Rationalist views on architecture provided a way of revisiting Western modernism and gaining a richer appreciation than the reductive vision of it as a rationalized version of the traditionalist—yet ultra-modern—Japanese space. With his Western education and influences, Ban has become one of the forerunning Japanese architects who embrace the combination of Western and Eastern building forms and methods. Perhaps most influential from Hejduk was the study of the structure of architectural systems. Ban is most famous now for his innovative work with paper and cardboard tubing as a material for building construction. He was the first architect in Japan to construct a building primarily out of paper, with his paper house and required special approval for his building to pass Japan’s building code. Ban is attracted to using paper because it is low cost, recyclable, low-tech and replaceable. The last aspect of Ban’s influences is his humanitarianism and his attraction to ecological architecture. Ban's work with paper and other materials is heavily based on its sustainability and because it produces very little waste. As a result of this, Ban's DIY refugee shelters (used in Japan after the Kobe earthquake, in Turkey, Rwanda and around the world) are very popular and effective for low-cost disaster relief-housing.
Ban created the Japanese pavilion building at Expo 2000 in Hanover in collaboration with the architect Frei Otto and structural engineers Buro Happold. The 72-metre-long gridshell structure was made with paper tubes. But due to stringent building laws in Germany, the roof had to be reinforced with a substructure. After the exhibition the structure was recycled and returned to paper pulp.
Ban fits well into the category of “Ecological Architects” but he also can make solid claims for being modernist, a Japanese experimentalist as well as a rationalist. Natias Neutert, German thinker, critic, and poet, marks Ban in his essay as "a gentle revolutionary , guiding contemporary architecture towards transparency, the spherical and the open." Ban himself quotes: “I don't like waste,” summing up his philosophy and practice, known as "Paper Architecture".

Materiality of paper

Ban’s experimental development of paper tubing structures came in 1986 before the question of any his programmatic commissions. He found paper’s structural integrity to be much better than expected and it is also available all around the world. They are most commonly available from manufacturers providing paper tubes for use in textile factories, as in the case with the disaster relief shelters project in Ahmedabad, India.
Limited material availability during times of disaster relief reconstruction is a major concern and involves increased market prices. Paper tubing on the other hand, not being a typical building material, is comparatively inexpensive and very accessible. In a special case during in Turkey in 1999, Ban was able to get paper tubing for free. Another positive argument for paper tubing was found in the case of the Rwanda refugee crisis in 1994. There were problems finding an alternative construction material to wood, as the use of trees for framing led to deforestation problems. The UN supplemented wood with aluminum piping but this was very expensive and in the end the refugees sold off the aluminum for money. They then reverted to cutting trees for building materials. Therefore paper tubing used for framing benefited the construction of emergency shelters in various ways.
In 1994, a magnitude 7.2 Richter scale earthquake devastated Kobe Japan, which intern offered a unique reconstruction project to Ban. Not only are the temporary shelters very cheap and easy to develop as they incorporate community participation, but they offer more versatile living conditions compared to traditionally used tents. The 172 square ft modules have paper tubing for walls with small gaps between each member allowing for ventilation and can also be taped up to insulate. The roof was made up of a waterproof tenting material while the foundation consisted of donated beer crates filled with sandbags.
Ban’s interest in using existing materials aligned with his minimalist ideology. There was never a question of manufacturing a different paper material as current technologies such as waterproofing films, polyurethane and acrylic paints can be used to improve its material properties. In the design of ‘The Paper Dome’ in 1998, paper as an innovative building material had to meet the rigorous construction codes, so a great deal of structural engineering data was submitted to the government. In this project straight paper tube joists were connected by laminated timber joints which are independently expensive but coupled with the paper tubing made for an inexpensive comprehensive budget. In addition, the 6’ paper tubes were waterproofed with liquid urethane to minimize expansion and contraction due to humidity variances found in Osaka-Cho Japan.
In the case of another project in Hannover Germany, the Japanese Pavilion constructed for Expo 2000 also used paper tubing but at much longer dimensions of 67’ with 4¾” diameters, at a less than 1” thickness. It was also waterproofed both inside and out by a coating of polyurethane satisfying extreme weather conditions and fire protection tests. Surprisingly the paper tubes are very difficult to burn due to its high density. Expo 2000 incorporated a very environmentally aware theme which influenced Ban’s design to allow for full recyclability of the Japanese Pavilion. Mechanical joinery was substituted by means of fabric tape which allowed for complicated movement and also naturally post tensioned the structure. The main tunnel of the pavilion was designed as an incredibly large space, at 242’ long, 82’ wide and 52’ high. The fabric tape was used with a buckle system which allowed for manual construction and dismantlement. Due to the strict building codes in Germany and the unconventional use of paper as a revolutionary building material, the Japanese Pavilion had to be over designed and incorporate wooden elements to become more of a hybrid structure. As an innovative addition to the design, Ban substituted the use of a concrete foundation with wooden boxes filled with sand to continue with the recyclable theme.

Major works

Furniture House, a series of prefabricated homes built in Japan, China, and the US
Curtain wall house (1995), Itabashi, Tokyo, Japan
Naked House (2000), Kawagoe, Saitama prefecture, Japan
Japanese Pavilion (2000) at Hannover World Exhibition Expo 2000, Hannover, Germany
Nomadic Museum (2005–present), built to house Gregory Colbert's video/photo work "Ashes and Snow"
Takatori Catholic Church, Hy?go Prefecture, Japan. (JR Kobe Line, 15 minutes walk from Takatori station)
Musée d'art Moderne Georges Pompidou, Metz, France
Luxurious villa designs Maison S und Maison H on an exclusive private island: Mandarin Oriental Dellis Cay
Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch, New Zealand (2012–2013)