There are many intelligent, talented and powerful people in the world, doing a plethora of impressive things. However the best thing that can be done, is to selflessly use those skills for the benefit of others.
Multi-award winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban does just that, and I was incredibly inspired on hearing him speak at the Art & Architecture Conference 2018. Hosted by Frieze Academy at the Royal Institution, the audience were treated to a diverse mix of speakers that had travelled in from across the globe, including well-known architects such as Richard Rogers and Jamie Fobert, and innovative artists such as Andrea Zittel and Christopher Kulendran Thomas.
After our minds had been stretched by the discussions of the day, Shigeru Ban took to the floor for the grand finale. Wasting no time with frivolities, he opened with a blunt but honest remark: he is disappointed that architects are generally hired by wealthy people in order to create something to show off to other wealthy people. Although this comment was welcomed with laughter at the conference, it holds a harsh truth.
As one of the greatest architects of our time, Ban’s repertoire includes hundreds of structures for various purposes, both temporary and permanent. He has been involved in notable projects including Centre Pompidou Metz (2010, France) and Japan Pavillion Hannover Expo (2000, Germany), as well as the first ever travelling Nomadic Museum (2005, New York, USA). Ban has been marvelled by critics for his innovation and groundbreaking design, and has thus been awarded countless international awards for his work.
While these are grand accomplishments, Ban is also interested in putting his talent to more worthy causes; helping to rebuild cities after they have been struck by natural disasters and supporting areas of poverty. Ban has been involved in many disaster relief projects, beginning with offering consultation to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the refugee camps after the Rwanda war in 1994 and in the year following, providing shelters for survivors of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, one of Japan’s worst earthquakes on record. His designs for cases such as these are affordable, flexible, and simple in order to provide fast and efficient relief for those in need.
Other well-remembered disasters that Ban provided aid for include the construction of low-cost safe houses in New Orleans as part of Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, to withstand future storms and flooding after Hurricane Katrina (2005) had destroyed more than 800 000 homes, and building clean, dry shelters made with local materials for the 1.2 million victims left homeless in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Ban continues to provide shelters for victims of disasters across the globe, and has consequently been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, for architects that show commitment and “consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.”
If this is not inspiring enough, the innovative architect takes things to the next level by staying eco-friendly and only using recycled paper and other non-impactful materials in his construction. Indifferent to the recent influx in awareness of being environmentally conscious, Ban has never liked waste, has always been resourceful, and has been building with recycled and reusable materials since 1986. Being the first to use paper as a construction material, it is a feature that makes his constructions most unique and iconic. Ban cleverly found a way to manipulate the recycled paper into sturdy tubes, so strong that they replace the need for concrete, metal or reinforced plastic. He uses this method in his most iconic designs, as well as his disaster relief shelters. A little fun fact that he shared with us at the conference is that in Japanese, the word for “paper” is the same word for “god”!
Ban is such an important role model in embracing simplicity, affordability and sustainability and it was such a pleasure to hear him speak about his work. He is humble and has a clear mission to make positive change with his designs, which he achieves time and time again.
If you are interested to find out more about Ban’s work, click here to visit his website, and here for his World Architects profile.