Accessibility Links

Pritzker Architecture Prize - Paper Tubes and Shipping Containers

Anyone who believes that cardboard tubes are only handy for recycling or as children’s toys, can't have seen the work of the 2014 winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architect Prize, which will be presented at an award ceremony on June 13th, at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Japan’s Shigeru Ban, 56, has been honoured for his innovation in the use of everyday materials and for his contribution to humanity. The architect was commended for the unique way he uses his materials, ranging from shipping containers to bamboo and paper tubes, and his efforts in humanitarian aid.

For the last 20 years, Ban has helped the victims of disasters, including the Rwanda conflict in 1994 and the Japanese tsunami of 2011, by building temporary accommodation from paper and cardboard. He became a consultant with the United Nations after he made a proposal about paper-tube shelters to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Following Japan’s ‘Great Hanshin’ earthquake, which killed around 6,434 people in 1995, he created a Paper Log House to be used by former Vietnamese refugees affected by the disaster. He used vertical cardboard tubes to create the walls and beer crates filled with sandbags for the foundations. He also built a Paper Church design that was used as a community centre. This was later taken down and reassembled in Taiwan in 2008.

Tokyo-born Ban set to work after the earthquake in New Zealand in 2011, building a cardboard cathedral for Christchurch. He has also helped humanitarian efforts in India, China, Haiti, Italy, the Philippines and Turkey, and in 1995 he founded the Voluntary Architects Network (VAN).

The Pritzker jury said that Ban was outstanding because he saw opportunities for action where other people would only see problems that could not be solved. Chairman Lord Palumbo even went as far as calling him an individual force of nature.

Ban, who has offices in Paris, Tokyo and New York, says it is his upbringing in Japan that has led to him hating seeing materials wasted. The recyclable tubes he uses for his shelters are perfect because they can be sourced locally and are cheap to obtain. They are simple to mount and dismantle and are easy to transport. They can also be fire-and water-proofed.

It was actually waste material that started him on the road to a prestigious career in architecture. He would watch traditional carpenters working at his parents’ house in Japan and then use their off-cuts to construct small models. He first wanted to become a carpenter but, when he was 11, he was set a school project to design a house. Ban’s effort was displayed as the best in the school and his dream of being an architect was born.

In both his private client and humanitarian work, Ban is renowned for his original and economical approach and for designs that do not rely on typical high-tech solutions. The Southern California Institute-trained architect has created many notable buildings apart from his humanitarian-aid efforts, not least the French Centre Pompidou-Metz modern art museum and his Naked House, which is situated in Saitama in Japan. This remarkable construction, created using acrylic on a timber frame and with walls made of clear corrugated plastic, was mentioned by the Pritzker prize judges. In another ground-breaking project, he used transportation containers to create the Nomadic Museum, which was set up in New York in 2005, in Santa Monica, California, in 2006 and in Tokyo in 2007.

Following the announcement of his prize, the ever-modest Ban, who completed a bachelor’s architecture degree at New Yorks Cooper Union in 1984, said he did not feel that he deserved the award, which is akin to a Nobel Prize in the world of architecture. He said he had not yet achieved enough but would use the recognition to spur himself on to create further works of note. He said he was fortunate to do a job that allowed him to make people happy, adding that some people enjoyed living in his temporary shelters so much that they did not want to move on.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize was started in 1979 as a means of recognising living architects whose works have made a significant and consistent contribution to humanity and to the built environment. It was established through the Hyatt Foundation of Chicago’s Pritzker family, led by Jay A. Pritzker and wife Cindy, and is now considered the highest honour that can be bestowed on an architect. The prize winner receives a bronze medallion and a $100,000 grant.

Ban is the seventh architect from Japan to be honoured with the award, following in the footsteps of Toyo Ito in 2013, Ryue Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejuma in 2010, 1995 winner Tadao Ando, 1993’s Fumihiko Maki and 1987 award recipient Kenzo Tange.

Anderselite Buzz