FORCE OF NATURE
Shigeru Ban is a force of nature, which is entirely appropriate in the light of his voluntary work for the homeless and
dispossessed in areas that have been devastated by natural disasters.
FOUNDER OF THE VOLUNTARY ARCHITECTS’ NETWORK
Eco-Architect and Three-Dimensional Poet
Shigeru Ban was born in Tokyo. When Ban was young, carpenters were often hired to renovate the family home, a wooden house. Ban was fascinated by the traditional work of the carpenters, and he liked to pick pieces of wood to build things. Ban decided he wanted to become a carpenter. Ban excelled at arts and crafts in primary school and junior high school. The model of a house he designed for an assignment during his 9th-grade summer holiday was displayed in his school as the best. He then decided that he wanted to become an architect. He learned structural modeling using paper, wood, and bamboo for the first time, and his exceptional ability quickly proved him to be peerless in this area. One day, at Makabe’s house, Ban came across an article on John Hejduk, the “paper architect” and then-dean of Cooper Union’s School of Architecture in New York. Ban’s encounter with the models and plans of these unbuilt buildings was revolutionary for him, and he decided to go to the United States and study architecture at Cooper Union. In 1977, Ban traveled to California to study English. At that time, he discovered that Cooper Union did not accept students from abroad and only accepted students who transferred from other schools within the United States. Ban searched for a school from which he could transfer and decided to attend the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), which had just been founded and used an old renovated warehouse as the school building. Ban was fascinated by the exciting studio and the school environment. The famous architect and founder of the SCI-Arc, Raymond Kappe, interviewed him, and although Ban could not speak English well at the time, Kappe, impressed by Ban’s portfolio, allowed him to enter the institute as a sophomore. Ban was very inspired by the series of Case Study Houses, which were influenced by traditional Japanese architecture. In 1980, after finishing the 4th year at SCI-Arc, Ban transferred to Cooper Union. At the end of the fourth year, Ban took a year of absence from Cooper Union and worked at Arata Isozaki’s office in Tokyo. Ban went back to Cooper Union and received his Bachelor of Architecture in 1984. After graduating, Ban accompanied the photographer Yukio Fukagawa on a trip to Europe, where he visited Alvar Aalto’s architecture in Finland for the first time. Ban was stunned by how Aalto’s architecture emphasized regional context and material. When Ban discovered that the two million refugees from the 1994 Rwandan Civil War were forced to live in terrible conditions, he proposed his paper-tube shelters to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and they hired him as a consultant.
After the Great Hanshin or Kobe Earthquake in 1995, he built the “Paper Log House” for the former Vietnamese refugees who did not have the possibility to live in the temporary houses provided by the Japanese government. He also built the Takatori “Paper Church,” with student volunteers. This was the trigger to establish the NGO Voluntary Architects’ Network (VAN) and to start disaster relief activities. VAN built temporary housing in Turkey in 1999, western India in 2001, and Sri Lanka in 2004. A temporary school was built after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, a concert hall in L’Aquila, Italy, and shelters after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. After the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, VAN set up 1800 paper partition systems in more than 50 shelters, to give families more privacy. VAN also built temporary housing at Onagawa, Miyagi prefecture, Japan. This brought great improvements in the quality of life in shelters and the temporary housing environment, neglected by the government. Following the devastation of the New Zealand Canterbury earthquake in 2011, Ban built the Cardboard Cathedral as a symbol of reconstruction of the city of Christchurch. In 1995, Ban’s paper-tube structure development received the permanent architecture certificate from the Minister of Construction in Japan and he completed the “Paper House.” In 2000, in collaboration with German architect/structural engineer Frei Otto, Ban constructed an enormous paper-tube grid shell structure for the Hanover Expo’s Japan Pavilion in Germany. This structure drew attention from all over the world for its recyclable architecture. In 2001, Ban was named a professor on the Faculty of Environment and Information Studies at Keio University. After he won the competition of Centre Pompidou-Metz, he established a private practice in Paris with his partner Jean de Gastines. In 2008 he resigned from Keio University and in 2010 he worked as a visiting professor at Harvard University and Cornell University. In 2011, he became a professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design. Ban is currently working on creating architecture, he volunteers for disaster relief, lectures widely, and teaches. He continues to develop material and structure systems.