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Shigeru Ban

Princess of Asturias Award for Concord 2022

Shigeru Ban (Tokyo, Japan, 5th August 1957) spent his childhood and adolescence in his native country convinced that carpentry would be his trade. The task of making a model of a house for his art class when he was in secondary school sparked his vocation for architecture, while an article in a specialized magazine led him to become interested in the works of American architect and theorist John Hejduk. From that moment onwards, his goal was to move to the United States to train as a draughtsman-designer. In 1977, he enrolled at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, where he studied until 1980. That same year, he moved to New York to continue his training at The Cooper Union School of Architecture, where Hejduk was dean. He graduated in 1984, after combining his university studies with working for a year (1982-1983) in Arata Isozaki’s studio. In 1985, he established his own firm in Tokyo, which currently also has offices in New York and Paris. His work as an architect is complemented by that of teaching at universities such as Tokyo, Harvard and Cornell (the latter two in the USA).

Considered the foremost activist of architecture by the specialized press, Shigeru Ban has achieved international prestige for being able to provide shelters and temporary housing as a rapid, effective response to extreme and devastating situations caused mostly by natural disasters. This response takes the form of high-quality designs, conceived on the basis of unconventional and reusable materials, and of constructions in which privacy and aesthetics are important factors, because, in Ban’s opinion, they contribute to improving the psychological wellbeing of their occupants. A pioneer in the nineteen eighties of environmental awareness and sustainability, he was also concerned with expanding the role of the architect, cooperating with governments, philanthropists, public organizations and communities affected by some type of disaster. In 1995, he was appointed advisor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and established the Voluntary Architect’s Network (VAN), an NGO whose mission is to transform the concept of temporary housing for emergency situations.

Today, plastic, wood, fabric, paper and, above all, cardboard constitute his allies when it comes to designing his emergency architectures, in which the priority is maximum respect for the future inhabitants of these spaces and their dignity. Using cardboard, Ban designs cylinders that, after receiving a polyurethane treatment, become a solid base for erecting structures at a minimum cost. The design for an Alvar Aalto exhibition at MoMA (New York) in 1986 allowed him to experiment with those paper tubes. He subsequently used them in prototypes of temporary housing to accommodate refugees in Rwanda, after the 1994 genocide, and in Kobe (Japan), following the 1995 earthquake. This system has also been used for the construction of private spaces for Ukrainian refugees on the border with Poland during the crisis resulting from the Russian invasion. He is currently studying the possibility of replacing steel structures with the lightness and resistance of carbon fibre, which would facilitate transport, storage and assembly.

Holder of the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2014) and honorary degrees from the Technical University of Munich (Germany, 2009) and the New School (USA, 2011), Shigeru Ban has received the Gold Medal from the French Academy of Architecture (2004), the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Architecture Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2005), and the AIJ Prize (2009), granted by the Japanese Institute of Architecture, among other distinctions.

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