Ban, Shigeru

Ban, Shigeru
▪ 1997

      Before a catastrophic earthquake devastated the Kobe area in Japan on Jan. 17, 1995, Shigeru Ban was recognized as a rising Japanese architect. He therefore felt he had to help the afflicted people and went to the city in February. By the end of the summer, his relief work had brought to a section of Kobe what was popularly called a paper dome to temporarily replace a ruined Roman Catholic church and paper-tube cabins to shelter some of those who had lost their homes. Ban used recycled, durable, strong, and environment-friendly paper material to construct the paper dome on the grounds where the church had stood before it was leveled by the earthquake. He had actually used paper tubes in 1985-86 in building structures, including a gallery for fashion designer Issey Miyake. He even suggested to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1994 that shelters made of paper be constructed for Rwandan refugees.

      Ban was born on Aug. 5, 1957, in Tokyo. He studied at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in 1980 and later moved to the Cooper Union School in New York City because he wanted to study under architect John Hejduk. Ban received a degree in architecture in 1984 and the following year opened his own office.

      The construction of the rectangular-shaped church, featuring a rounded canvas roof, started in July and finished in September with the help of 160 volunteers, most of them architecture students. A total of 58 paper tubes, each measuring 5 m (16.4 ft) long, 33 cm (13 in) in diameter, and 15 cm (6 in) in thickness, were arranged in an oval form inside the church. Ban designed the structure so that it could be easily constructed and dismantled, then used again, perhaps in Rwanda or some such place when its mission as a temporary facility ended. A few companies donated construction materials, but the building cost 9 million yen, some of which was contributed by the public. Ban and his student volunteers also simultaneously built 22 paper cabins for quake-stricken people during the two-month period, using beer crates containing sand bags as their foundations and coated tenting fabrics for the roofs. Ban's service was acknowledged with an award from a Japanese architecture association, which praised him for displaying an architect's sense of mission based on deeply rooted human love. He became a UNHCR consultant and a part-time professor of architecture at Yokohama National University in 1995 and a part-time professor of architecture at Nihon University in 1996. (TEIJI SHIMIZU)

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Universalium. 2010.

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