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Shigeru Ban wins Pritzker Prize 2014

United Kingdom Architecture News - Mar 24, 2014 - 22:59   2561 views

Shigeru Ban wins Pritzker Prize 2014

The Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is this year's Pritzker laureate.Courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects

“You know the British TV program Thunderbirds,” asks Shigeru Ban, a playful glint in his eye. The seeming non-sequitur comes in the middle of our conversation with him, in the lobby of a Japanese hotel a stone’s throw away from Grand Central Station in New York City. The interview was occasioned by this year’s Pritzker rollout, whose top-secret protocol even precluded the architect from revealing the news to his studio (but not to his mother). Ban’s quip—about “an international rescue team hidden in an island, with special training and technology to rescue people in danger”—was less a question than an answer; a joke, he says, whose purpose is to deflect journalists’ interrogations into the source of his “social,” “activist” architecture.

Ban is the 37th Pritzker laureate, and his selection signals a shift in the prize’s history, which has privileged issues of form and "touchy-feely" experience over social concerns. The 56-year-old, Tokyo-based architect has amassed an eclectic body of work since opening his own practice in 1985, only a year after completing his formal training at Cooper Union. There, Ban explains, he studied under architect-thinkers like Diana Agrest, Bernard Tschumi, and Peter Eisenman. He fell out of favor with Eisenman and other professors, however, who took issue with his idiosyncratic approach to his studies and consequently delayed his graduation. “I had to postpone it. I had to do a few more months to do my thesis, and I then I presented it only to John Hejduk, not Peter [Eisenman], so then it was okay,” he says, laughing.

After finally graduating, Ban traveled to Europe to visit the modernist masterworks that formed the major point of reference for the Cooper Union curriculum. He admired buildings by Mies and Gropius, but most of all Alvar Aalto, whose work he encountered and photographed in Finland. Aalto’s architecture, he says, was exceptional in its attention to cultural and regional context and materials—values which he would come to prize in his own architectural research and work. Returning to Tokyo he embarked on a series of curatorial projects, including exhibitions on the works of architect Emilio Ambasz, photographer Judith Turner, and, more crucially, Aalto. For the latter show, opened in 1986, Ban developed lightweight, modular installations that rendered the master’s undulating timber walls and surfaces in cardboard. It would mark the introduction of the material in Ban’s catalog.

Shigeru Ban wins Pritzker Prize 2014

Ban's Alvar Aalto Exhibition (1986) in Tokyo, where he first began experimenting with spatial applications for cardboard tubes.

Since then, Ban’s name has become synonymous with the water- and fire-proofed cardboard tubes he’s used to build temporary chapels in Kobe (1995), Taiwan (2008), and Christchurch (2011-13), emergency shelters for refugees in Rwanda (1994) and disaster victims in Sri Lanka (2004) and in Haiti (2010), classrooms in Sichuan (2008), and most recently, housing in the Philippines. Still, despite their shared material affinities, the architect insists that each project is uniquely tuned to its respective context. Ban explains his process: “There are no standard solutions, that’s why I have to go there myself to find out what exactly is the problem, what materials are available locally, what kind of team can I put together locally. So I cannot just bring my former experiences to a project.”...Continue Reading

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