Shigeru Ban is a modest man. Dressed in a black suit with stand-up collar (designed by his mother), he is in Zürich to inaugurate the launch of his furniture series. He speaks about his work in a quiet ow of words. The basic points of his task as an architect have been clearly de ned in his architecture for many years. “We produce too much waste”, he pronounces soberly, showing examples of materials and projects that translate the principle of not throwing things away. The Japanese architect is considered a master of sustainability and recycling, but he would never mention those complex terms or explain his own work as being influenced by ‘environmental issues’. Instead, he states that his personal conviction is to implement a human attitude in his projects. His commitment to architecture is a deeply societal one and this did not change after he won architecture’s highest accolade, the Pritzker Prize, in 2014. “After receiving the award, I had many offers from developers, but I didn’t accept any of the projects”, he says. Among all the buildings that he and his team have completed over the years, the disaster-relief projects and paper-tube constructions are two main constants. Together with students from the Voluntary Architect’s Network (VAN), an NGO he found- ed in 1995 in Tokyo, Ban has been building refugee shelters, temporary housing, nurseries, and even a cathedral, for the victims of earthquakes, tsunamis, and other catastrophes – in Rwanda, Turkey, China, and Haiti. Most of these projects utilise paper tubes.
In 1995, Ban was commissioned by the UNHCR as a consultant for refugee shelters. “I was shocked when I saw the UN-supplied camps in Rwanda. They were so messy. The shelters were just not good enough; people were freezing-cold during the rainy season. So I suggested that the paper-tube design replace the use of local wood.” (A fact unknown at that moment is that the use of timber was causing serious desertification, thus rendering the idea even more relevant). The architect remembers the details of the many disaster regions he has been to. He always travels to those places by himself within a couple of days after the catastrophe hits, and tries to find out more about the particular needs of the victims – often those belonging to minority groups who are ignored by the official aid organisations. With his NGO in Tokyo, Ban develops the prototypes along with local students, building shelters and training the survivors in how to build these themselves. All the details and construction manuals for the disaster-relief projects are published in Ban’s book, in addition to documentation on the testing data. The paper-tube projects are open source and can be re-produced almost anywhere. Shigeru Ban says with pride: “I am happy that my design is copied.”