Visual Arts


During the early years of the 20th century, the world’s population was more or less 1.5 billion people. By the 1950s, this had risen to 2.5, and this year it has been estimated at 7.5. Have you ever wondered whether the world’s resources, which we have always regarded as limitless, will continue to be so in the future? Unfortunately many will not, some currently sufficient ceasing to be so.

And so we cannot but assume that what we do today will have a bearing on future generations. What can we do about it? Be aware, and act accordingly. This is not a new question and many are already following a path they began some time ago; not as a fad or fashion, but rather because respect for what is around them is part of their overall education. Shigeru Ban, one of the greatest and most visionary of contemporary architects, is among them.

Ban was born in Tokyo in 1957 and attended first SCI-Arc and then New York’s Cooper Union School of Architecture, where he studied under John Hejduk. He worked for Arata Isozaki for a year before graduating and then opened his own studio in Tokyo in 1985.

Ban’s works are renowned above all for their innovative use of paper. It is not a material frequently associated with architectural design but one which evokes both the culture of Ban’s country and the humble nature of the architect himself.

At the very beginning of his career Ban appreciated that recycled cardboard tubes – generally those used by textile companies for winding cloth – could be used for architectural purposes. Since then he has used them in many of his works, both temporary and permanent.

The upbringing he received taught him not to waste what was around him. This approach, using sustainable materials such as paper and bamboo, enabled him to give his work an awareness of and respect for the environment. It also led much of it to be distinctive for its sober and innate elegance.

One of the other reasons for the distinctiveness of Ban’s works, however, is their total devotion to humanitarianism, since they include structures which have, through sheer ingenuity, faced down many natural disasters in recent decades. It is precisely this aspect which has thrown his great sensitivity into profile.

He has received many prizes and acknowledgements over the years, including the Pritzker Prize, probably the most important of all. When the jury awarded him this prize in 2014, its members did not limit themselves to emphasising the innovative use he made of his materials and his great dedication to humanitarian works. They called him “a committed teacher who is not only a role model for younger generations, but also an inspiration”.

Variety is the spice of life, and there are many schools of thought in the world: some more valid, others less so. What is certain is that we need more people like Shigeru Ban.

Thanks to the Shigeru Ban Studio for their assistance in producing this article.

Tokyo, September 2018