Why paper architecture is winning

Shigeru Ban has won the 2014 Pritzker Prize for architecture. We congratulate him for it, as it’s well-deserved. In his work, Ban keeps an open mind to the aesthetic application of material, rather than merely pandering to the most powerful influence.

His work is particularly interesting to Materia because his designs focus so strongly on intelligently unexpected and out-of-the-box material use. His works manage to combine poetry with multi-functionality.

We’ve written previously about projects such as his Tamedia building and his disaster-relief church in Christchurch, New Zealand. No other high-profile architect today applies materials with such conceptual rigor.

Ban led the way in using cheap, disposable paper-and-board housing for the homeless and has continued to investigate this material for use in general construction. Cardboard is prone to moisture and fire damage, yet Ban displayed its potential to the world with his Japanese pavilion at the Hannover expo in 2000.

In almost all his architecture, he applies the simplest, most lightweight and most efficient materials wherever he can. Besides the Pritzker, he should be on shortlists for social architecture prizes.

His paper cathedral is a good example of his philosophy. Rolled cardboard tubes form the large prismatic structure of the church. Foils provide water proofing and the structure is self-supporting.

More recently, his Tamedia building in Switzerland takes a step towards circular building. Using expertly crafted wooden elements, the building slots together without needing glue or screws. This will make it far easier and less wasteful to disassemble later on.

Other projects provide clues to the development of these principles. The L’aquila temporary concert hall is a simple public space built with pre-stressed cardboard columns under a lightweight truss roof.

For the Centre-Pompidou in Metz, cross-linked timbers form a pattern of six-pointed stars that undulate with the shape of the roof. This is really only possible using laminated wood, as it provides both flexibility with strength.

In all of these designs, the chosen material is really the key to the project. This is why Ban’s work can be inspiring to anyone interested in material innovation.


Images via Shigeru Ban and Facebook. Christchurch image: (c) Stephen Goodenough.