It’s official: the 2014 Pritzker Prize goes to Shigeru Ban – one of Inhabitat’s favorite architects! The incredibly innovative and accomplished Japanese architect is well-known for his experimental and environmentally conscientious designs built from low-cost and recyclable materials such as cardboard tubes and shipping containers. A leader in disaster relief design work, Ban made waves with his recently completed Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, an incredible temporary replacement for a cathedral destroyed in the 2011 earthquake. In announcing the 56-year-old, Tokyo-based architect, Tom Pritzker 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.”
Ban’s simple and dignified architectural works have provided relief to victims of genocide, tsunamis, earthquakes, and other disasters both natural and manmade. His long history of humanitarian design started with his UN consultant work in the 1994 Rwanda conflict, where he first proposed shelters made from paper tubes. Over time, he carried his paper tube concept to other disaster relief projects – from a “Paper Log House” designed for Vietnamese refugees to temporary housing built for the victims of the 2011 Onagawa earthquake. His creative use of common and often unconventional materials in disaster relief projects expanded to include bamboo, fabric, paper, and recycled composites.
The Japanese architect’s social activism led him to the NGO Voluntary Architects’ Network (VAN) to organize post-disaster aid in construction, where he often employed his signature water- and fire-proofed paper structures. Although he is often praised for his dedication to sustainable and eco-friendly design, Ban dismisses the labels and says that those principles have been intrinsic to his design before they came buzz words. “When I started working this way, almost thirty years ago, nobody was talking about the environment,” says Ban in the Pritzker statement. “But this way of working came naturally to me. I was always interested in low cost, local, reusable materials.”
The distinguished nine-member jury honored Ban with the Pritzker distinction for “responding with creativity and high quality design to extreme situations caused by devastating natural disasters” across the world, however they also recognized the architect’s experimental approach and use of renewable and locally-produced materials. The jury cites the Naked House, a Saitama single family home built in 2000, as an example of his experimental approach with modest means. Ban “was able to question the traditional notion of rooms and consequently domestic life, and simultaneously create a translucent, almost magical atmosphere” by simply layering clear corrugated plastic and stretched white acrylic on a timber frame.
The jury also writes: “Shigeru Ban is a tireless architect whose work exudes optimism. Where others may see insurmountable challenges, Ban sees a call to action. Where others might take a tested path, he sees the opportunity to innovate. He is a committed teacher who is not only a role model for younger generations, but also an inspiration.” To illustrate Ban’s skill at pushing boundaries, the jury cites his newly opened Tamedia office in Zurich, which uses an interlocking timber structural system in place of joint hardware and glue.
Pritzker Prize jury chairman The Lord Palumbo said, “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. But he also 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.”
Following the Pritzker award ceremony on June 13th in Amsterdam, Ban will be the seventh Japanese architect to become a Pritzker laureate.