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Architecture with Conscious

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The Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, winner of Pritzker Architecture Prize for year 2014 is known for his innovative buildings built out of cardboard tubing. Instead of being obsessed with building iconic building to last for ages, Ban would rather build for the natural disaster victims and provide immediate structures for use.

Architect Shigeru Ban studied architecture from Southern California Institute of Architecture and Cooper Union School of Architecture in USA. In 1985, he established private practice in Tokyo, Japan. His architecture is more about materiality, construction, innovation and ideas than about design.

Shigeru Ban following his own design instincts has created a remarkable model of architectural practice that focuses on the intersection between aesthetics and social responsibility. In fact, sustainable design is organic to his architecture. The architect designs with renewable local materials and finds unprecedented new uses for industrial products. Thus, shipping containers become the basis for emergency housing and cardboard tubing form the framework for temporary shelters.

Apart from relief shelters, his other noteworthy projects include, gently curving Japanese pavilion for the Hannover Expo in Germany and Centre Pompidou Metz, a museum of contemporary arts in France displaying a large hexagon structured round a central spire reaching 77m. His private houses, including “Curtain Wall House” and “Crescent House,” both in Japan are equally distinct in their use of material and design concepts. Ban’s engagement in such a wide spectrum of architectural programs, from humanitarian shelter to iconic museums shows that simple architectural structures can create an incredible richness in spatial forms as well as humane experiences.

The winning of the prestigious Pritzker Award by Ban is seen by many in the architecture community as the spotlight shifting from exemplary architecture to socially conscious architecture. In that context, Ban has proven that an architect’s skills can indeed be used for social well-being, if he or she wants to. His work for disaster relief agencies across the world has shown that an architect can formulate concepts and material ideas that relief agencies might not. Though his work at times has been termed as self-conscious, fussy and awkward, what’s praiseworthy is his use of architecture to make life better for people.

His work in all its interesting forms and material choices combines some of the contemporary architecture’s biggest paradoxes, rich yet simple, engineered yet poetic and temporary yet monumental. Below are a few examples of his humanitarian architectural projects that use local materials and innovative building technologies.

Cardboard Cathedral, New Zealand

The February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, rendered that city’s cathedral unusable, Ban was invited to come up with a temporary replacement structure. He designed a vast A-frame, 78 feet in height, whose nave consists of 98 cardboard tubes, each two feet in diameter, set vertically, 49 on each side. The tubes lean inward with a two-inch gap between each and the result is a high, light-filled triangular space. Paper tubes of the equal length and 20ft containers form triangular shape. Since geometry is decided by plan and elevations of the original cathedral, there is a gradual change in each angle of paper tubes. The shipping containers serve as the base and form the walls of the nave. The time took to build this entire structure was merely 13 months and the cost about $5 million. The cathedral completed in 2013 has a capacity to seat 700 people and can also be used as an event space and a concert space. (By comparison, the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California, a magnificent replacement for another earthquake-damaged cathedral, cost $175 million and took three and a half years to build.)

Paper Log House

Constructed for the Bhuj earthquake victims in 2001, the uniqueness of India’s log house lies in the foundation and the roof. Rubble from destroyed building was used for the foundation. It was coated with a traditional mud floor. For the roof, split bamboo was applied to the rib vaults and whole bamboo to the ridge beams. A locally woven cane mat was placed over the bamboo ribs, followed by a clear plastic tarpaulin and then another cane mat to protect against rain. Ventilation was provided through the gables, where small holes in the mats allowed air to circulate. This ventilation also allowed cooking to be done inside, with the added benefit of repelling mosquitoes.

Hualin Temporary Elementary School, China

The Sichuan province in China was hit by an earthquake measuring a magnitude of eight on the Richter scale in 2008. The natural disaster left the district of Chengdu destroyed. To aid the reconstruction of the city, Shigeru Ban’s research center, Banlab, collaborated with several Japanese and Chinese universities to design and construct temporary classrooms constructed from paper tubes cheaply available on site.

With appropriate construction management, three buildings (nine classrooms) were completed in about 40 days. The main arch structure of the temporary elementary school was constructed with 20mm cardboard tubes. The arches were made out of four paper tubes which are then connected by wooden joints. This method makes up the basic frame construction of all the buildings. Simple vinyl is used for sliding door panels which are located on the side walls of the classroom. The partitions between classrooms are made from a fireproofing material. The roof is thatched with translucent corrugated polycarbonates sheets, which allow the daylight through to the round halls on the roof boards.

“Ban was worth honoring because he has struggled, more conscientiously than most architects, with the problem of using his form-making skills on behalf of a segment of the world’s population that has no voice.”

– Paul Goldberger

a Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic and educator

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