Paper emergency shelter for Haiti, by Shigeru Ban

Shigeru Ban Wins The Pritzker –  DnA Talks to Naomi Pollock about Why He Won

Shigeru Ban was raised in Japan but began his architecture education at age 18 at SCI-Arc, and last week was awarded the Pritzker Prize.

The jury cited his residential and museum designs, but singled out his work for refugees, saying his elegant structures made out of simple materials like paper tubes or shipping containers for refugees “provide shelter. . . and spiritual places for those who have suffered tremendous loss and destruction.”

Curtain wall houseCritics responded with delight, saying his work elegantly unites divergent trends in architecture: the creation of showy monuments for the rich, and community-based design for the poor.

However, some architects are irritated by what they see as prizes for virtue.

Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid’s firm recently argued on Facebook against the “political correctness that is trying to paralyze us with bad conscience . . .  as if the delivery of social justice is the architect’s competency.” He added that “FORM is our specific contribution to the evolution of world society.”

On the other hand, many architects do humanitarian work, often out of the media spotlight. Some of them are one and same person as designers of showy monuments for the rich.

And while the Millennial generation does seem to be especially concerned with saving the world, and is very entrepreneurial in going about it, architects since Modernism have been taught that their role is to improve society at large with buildings.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 11.11.41 AMWhat has changed in recent years is increased focus on grassroots design — working with the community rather than top-down – as well as the capacity to crowd-source and make global connections thanks to the internet. Add to that an escalation of environmental disasters in the last decade that have driven a demand for greater crisis response from builders and architects.

So what makes Ban’s work special? Did he get the prize for goodness or good architecture or both?

Find out in this interview with Naomi Pollock, architecture and design writer based in Tokyo, and author of Made In Japan: 100 New Products.

Read about Ban and his LA connection, here.

Hear the entire podcast, also featuring Guy Horton and Andrea Cohen Gehring on the ethical responsibilities of architects, here.

 

Images: Top, Shigeru Ban helps build emergency shelters in Haiti, 2010; Above right, Curtain Wall House, photographed by Hiroyuki Hirai; above left, Paper Partition System 4, for emergency shelters following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japan.

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