The Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who has combined a talent for innovative design and experimental use of everyday materials with extensive humanitarian efforts around the globe, has won the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Ban, who designed the Pompidou centre in France, is the seventh architect from Japan to receive the honour, which will be officially awarded in June.
For two decades, the 56-year-old has rushed to the site of disasters – for example, the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, or the 1994 conflict in Rwanda – to construct temporary relief shelters. He has often used cardboard paper tubes as building materials, since they are easily found, easily transported and can be water-proofed or fire-proofed.
Ban’s relief work has not been limited to creating living shelters. In the wake of the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy, for example, he created a temporary auditorium so the city’s musicians could continue to play. And after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, he created partitions for existing emergency shelters so families could have some privacy.
Outside his humanitarian work, Ban’s noted projects have included the Centre Pompidou-Metz, a modern art museum in Metz, France, characterised by a remarkable curved roof made of timber – and inspired by a Chinese hat.
In its citation, the Pritzker jury noted Ban’s unique approach to materials.
“He is able to see in standard components and common materials, such as paper tubes, packing materials or shipping containers,” the jury wrote, “opportunities to use them in new ways.”
Ban’s Curtain Wall House in Tokyo uses two-story high white curtains to open or close the home to the outside. Similarly, his Shutter House in New York’s Chelsea neighbourhood, an 11-story apartment building, features a unique metal shutter system to open up apartments to the city air.
But it is Ban’s humanitarian work that the Pritzker jury emphasised in announcing the prize, which will be formally awarded on June 13 at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Speaking in an interview this week, Ban explained that despite his extensive work for private clients, his humanitarian efforts are of utmost importance to him.
“This is my life’s work,” he said.
In times of disaster, building materials can be difficult and expensive to procure. That’s why, Ban said, his favourite building material is something most people throw out: cardboard tubes.
“Even in Kigali, Rwanda, when I was building shelters, I found them,” he said.
“I’m not inventing anything new, I’m just using existing material differently.”
After the Kobe earthquake of 1995, Ban built a Paper Church which remained there for 10 years, he said, because of affection for it. Ultimately it was dismantled to make way for a permanent structure and rebuilt in Taiwan as a community centre.
“Even a building that is made of paper can be permanent, as long as people love it,” Ban said.
“And even a concrete building can be temporary, as we see in earthquakes.”
Now based in three cities, Ban said he felt a little underqualified for the Pritzker award.
“It’s too early,” he said.
“I haven’t achieved enough, so I am taking this as encouragement for my future work.”
He also said he wanted to be careful not to let the prize cause him to expand his offices and overstretch himself.
Ban mused that he gets similar satisfaction seeing people enjoy his most expensive designs or his cheapest structures of paper.
“Sometimes people are so happy in my temporary shelters that they don’t want to move out,” he said.
“And the same with my work for private clients. The satisfaction is the same – I just love to make nice spaces for people to enjoy.”
Sponsored by the Hyatt Foundation, the annual Pritzker Architecture Prize was established in 1979 by the late entrepreneur Jay A Pritzker and his wife, Cindy, to honour a living architect whose work demonstrates a combination of talent, vision and commitment.