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Architect-Humanitarian Wins Pritzker

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

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Shigeru Ban, an innovative Japanese architect known for his extensive humanitarian efforts, will receive the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize, one of the profession's highest honors.

The 56-year-old architect has spent 20 years of his 30-year career traveling the world to areas struck by natural and manmade disasters.There, he works with local citizens, volunteers and students to design and build "simple, dignified, low-cost, recyclable shelters and community buildings" for the victims.

Hailed by award officials as a "tireless architect whose work exudes optimism," Ban has offices in Tokyo, Paris and New York. His portfolio includes everything from private residences and corporate headquarters, to museums, concert halls and other civic buildings.

Shigeru Ban
Photos courtesy of Shigeru Ban Architects

Shigeru Ban is being honored with the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize for his innovative approach to designing sustainable, environmentally friendly structures, often in response to natural or man-made disaster.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize, sponsored by The Hyatt Foundation, is given annually “to a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture,” according to the award announcement.

As the 2014 Laureate, Ban will receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion at a ceremony June 13, at the Rijksmuseum ("State Museum") in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. (Stream it live at

Each year, the ceremony is held at a culturally or historically significant venue. This year's ceremony will be the first in the Netherlands.

Ban: Honor Encourages Growth

"Receiving this prize is a great honor, and with it, I must be careful," Ban commented.

Pritzker Architecture Prize
Hiroyuki Hirai

The Curtain Wall House in Tokyo has two-story-high white curtains along the perimeter that can be opened "to let the outside flow in" or closed "to provide a cocoon-like setting."

"I must continue to listen to the people I work for, in my private residential commissions and in my disaster relief work. I see this prize as encouragement for me to keep doing what I am doing—not to change what I am doing, but to grow."

The Pritzker Prize jury says Ban "reflects the spirit of this prize to the fullest."

Rather than relying on common high-tech solutions, his work showcases "originality, economy and ingeniousness" by implementing a variety of design solutions, often based around structure, materials, view, natural ventilation, light, and a drive to make comfortable places for the people who use them.

Among Ban's extensive portfolio of projects, the jury cites Naked House (2000) in Saitama, Japan; Curtain Wall House (1995) in Tokyo; Nicolas G. Hayek Center (2007) in Tokyo; and the Nomadic Museum (New York in 2005; Santa Monica, CA, in 2006; and Tokyo in 2007).

Paper Church
Hiroyuki Hirai

Using paper tubes, Ban designed "Paper Church" for survivors of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan. The structure was later sent to Taiwan and reassembled in 2008.

His body of work also includes PC Pile House, House of Double Roof, Furniture House, Wall-less House and Nine-Square Grid House.

His design for the Aspen Art Museum is scheduled to open in August.

Pritzker Prize jury chairman, Lord Peter Palumbo, called Ban "a force of nature" whose work "ticks the several boxes for qualification to the Architectural Pantheon—a profound knowledge of his subject with a particular emphasis on cutting-edge materials and technology; total curiosity and commitment; endless innovation; an infallible eye; an acute sensibility—to name but a few."

Japanese architecture
Hiroyuki Hirai

For Naked House, in Saitama, Japan, Ban developed walls of clear, corrugated plastic and sections of white acrylic stretched internally across a timber frame. The house consists of one large space, two stories high, in which four personal rooms on casters can be moved about freely.

The jury commended Ban for expanding the architectural field—not only through the problems and challenges he tackles, but also for the tools and techniques with which he addresses them.

Wish to Waste No Materials

Ban has often constructed disaster relief shelters using locally available recyclable cardboard paper tubes for the columns, walls and beams. This method allows for easy transportation, mounting and dismantling; and the shelters can be water- and fire-proofed.

The Tokyo-born architect attributes his Japanese upbringing for his "wish to waste no materials." He recalls watching traditional Japanese carpenters work at his parents' house when he was young, saying "their tools, the construction, and the smells of wood were magic" to him.

Ban says that while his architecture is often called sustainable and environmentally friendly,  "nobody was talking about the environment" when he started working this way three decades ago.

"But this way of working came naturally to me," he said. I was always interested in low-cost, local, reusable materials."

Global Humanitarian Efforts

Ban's humanitarian efforts started in 1994 when he learned that two million refugees from the Rwandan Civil War were forced to live in terrible conditions. The suffering inspired him to propose paper-tube shelters to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; he was subsequently hired as a consultant.

paper emergency shelters
Shigeru Ban Architects

"Innovation is not limited by building type, and compassion is not limited by budget. Shigeru has made our world a better place," Tom Pritzker said. Here, Ban works on building a paper emergency shelter in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2010.

The Pritzker Prize jury's citation emphasizes Ban's "experimental approach to common materials ... his structural innovations, and creative use of unconventional materials," including bamboo, fabric, paper and composites of recycled paper fiber and plastics.

After the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, Ban developed the "Paper Church" community center and the "Paper Log House" for Vietnamese refugees in the area, using donated beer crates filled with sandbags for the foundation and creating walls by vertically lining paper cardboard tubes.

His development of paper-tube structures earned him the permanent architecture certificate from the Minister of Construction in Japan.

Paper Log House
Kartikeya Shodhan

Ban first developed the "Paper Log House" in 1995, the same year he founded Voluntary Architects' Network, a non-governmental organization that has constructed disaster relief projects all over the world. Shown here: Paper Log Houses in Bhuj, India, in 2001.

Tom Pritzker, Chairman and President of The Hyatt Foundation, 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."

In 1995, Ban founded a non-governmental organization called VAN: Voluntary Architects' Network, through which he has worked with local victims, students and other volunteers to build disaster relief projects in Japan, Turkey, India, Sri Lanka, China, Haiti, Italy, New Zealand and, currently, the Philippines.

Ban "has been responding with creativity and high-quality design to extreme situations caused by devastating natural disasters," award officials noted. "When tragedy strikes, he is often there from the beginning."

Shigeru Ban building designs
Hiroyuki Hirai

The front and back façades of Tokyo's 14-story Nicolas G. Hayek Center feature tall glass shutters than can be fully opened. The jury called Ban's work "direct and honest," adding that "it is never ordinary, and each new project has an inspired freshness about it."

Ban served as a member of the prize jury from 2006 to 2009. He lectures and teaches at architecture schools around the world and is currently a professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design in Kyoto, Japan.

Ban attended architecture school at the Southern California Institute of Architecture and received a bachelor's degree in architecture from Cooper Union in New York City in 1984.

Tamedia Building
Shigeru Ban Architects Europe

When Ban was tapped to create "pleasant spaces" for the employees of Swiss media company Tamedia, he designed a seven-story headquarters with a main structural system entirely in timber, interlocking wooden beams with no metal joints or glue.

"His own architecture is direct and honest," award officials noted. "However, it is never ordinary, and each new project has an inspired freshness about it."

About the Pritzker

The Pritzker Architecture Prize was founded in 1979 by the late Jay A. Pritzker and his wife, Cindy.

Ban is the seventh Japanese architect to receive the award, following Kenzo Tange in 1987, Fumihiko Maki in 1993, Tadao Ando in 1995, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa in 2010, and Toyo Ito in 2013.

Recent recipients include Eduardo Souto de Moura of Portugal in 2011 and Wang Shu of The People’s Republic of China in 2012.

More information, including additional photos and a list of jury members, is available here.


Tagged categories: Architects; Architecture; Awards and honors; Building design; Color + Design; Design; Pritzker Architecture Prize

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