Shigeru Ban & Paper Architecture

Shigeru Ban is well known for his paper architecture, in particular the emergency structures designed for regions struck by disaster, notably houses for the Japanese city of Kobe hit by a devastating earthquake in 1995, and a series of paper tent structures for the UN High Commission for Refugees in Rwanda in 1999. Ban’s design for Kobe, a log house made of stiff paper tubes formed from recycled paper, was also proposed for Kosovo in 1999. In Kobe, Ban also built a Paper Church to replace a Catholic church fallen in the quake. Later, when Kobe was rebuilt, the paper church was disassembled and shipped to Taiwan where it has been made a permanent structure.

The use of paper in architecture does not mean the structures must be temporary. If proper films and treatments are applied, the buildings can be made both water- and fire-proof. See Open Architecture Network for details and advantages.

Top, paper tube structure Osaka-cho, Gifu, Japan, 1998. Above, Paper Loghouse and Paper Church for Kobe, Japan. Below, UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) paper tube structures in Rwanda. Bottom, a temporary paper tube structure called the Vasarely Pavilion, Aix-en-Provence 2006. For a random search of Ban’s paper architecture, take a look. Paper’s versatility and lightness allows Ban to experiment with geometric shapes which may explain why some of the structures look like mathematical models.

Even when Ban is not building with paper, his orientation can be considered “green,” but though he also teaches within an environmental studies program, he doesn’t describe his architecture this way. From his point of view, “green” would not be a specialization but a consideration in all good architecture – similar to the fallacy in which climate change is siloed as an “environmental” problem rather than considered as a far more central problem penetrating all other human affairs. In other words Ban doesn’t want to ghettoize architecture that considers its environment; the environment is the very thing architecture is in dialogue with, by definition. Watch the NYT’s excellent video/slideshow on Ban here. See also his book Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture.

As an aside, and with respect to the mention of Taiwan, above, we were always told in British Columbia that when our old phone books were picked up they were shipped in containers to Taiwan where they were pulped to make building materials. This always seemed sort of mysterious and magical, and it may well have been, since I can find no proof of it online.

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