Shigeru Ban is renowned for his inventive and courageous architecture, which spans from museums to simple huts. While the Pritzker Prize-winning architect is often given kudos for his work in developing emergency shelters and using low-impact materials like paper, that humble work is often given second fiddle to his more grandiose designs, like the newly opened Aspen Art Museum. The Museum turned the attention it received on its head by publishing Humanitarian Architecture; the most thorough book available on Ban’s emergency shelters. His work in emergency response design and development is such a core part of his oeuvre, it would be difficult to understand or appreciate his more high-profile projects without it. Read on past the jump for our full review.

Shigeru Ban Shelters

The first half of book is comprised of four essays and conversations that Ban had with Bad Pit and fellow educator Koh Kitayama. These interviews cut to the core of Ban’s influences and thinking process; one that shifts seamlessly from expensive commissions to perfunctory disaster shelter, and from formal materials to rudimentary cardboard tubes. The seed of his famous cardboard works grew from the experience of attempting to provide shelter after the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. He was inspired to provide a better system than the UN’s offer of plastic sheets and steel poles after he learned that the steel was being sold for cash and inhabitants were deforesting the region to create their own shelters. He had an epiphany after looking at the paper tubes in his office which he had the habit of saving. Strong, durable, and in the case of Rwanda, offering no resale value, these tubes were ideal as a building material, especially since they could be produced cheaply and locally.

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His usage of these materials evolved as the needs of people in dire situations around the world unfurled, and the second half of this book chronicles his disaster shelter efforts. Often self funded, Ban found himself in Kobe, then Turkey, India, Shi Lanka, China, Haiti, US, Italy, and New Zealand. His design solutions are typically invented for the needs of the residents and availability of material, and many of his projects have an accompanying how-to sheet that also explains the design components. Ban believes that emergency shelters should not only be made from simple materials—such as paper tubes, beer crates, rope, and canvas—they should be easy to construct without heavy machinery.

Shigeru Ban Building

Ban’s most well-known cardboard tube buildings are churches, the first being the Takatori Catholic Church built in Kobe after the Hanshin-Awji Earthquake of 1995. He successfully created paper tube homes for Vietnamese refugees so they could stay and work in the city, and convinced the skeptical clergy that building a church using his system was possible as well. The Paper Church was so successful that when it was finally deconstructed, it found its way to Puli, Taiwan, in 2008. Then there was the Christchurch Earthquake where Ban’s tube-based replacement Cathedral soars 79 feet above the shipping container foundation.

Ban’s insight into materiality and time is where this wellspring of creativity comes from, “Whether the structure is temporary or permanent is not dependent on what kind of material it is made from. If the structure is loved by the people, it will stay forever.”

+ Shigeru Ban: Humanitarian Architecture

Portrait of Shigeru Ban by Forge ArchiMedia