Monday, March 24, 2014

Shigeru provides a Ban(d)aid for the Pritzker Architecture Prize

photo: Shigeru Ban Architects
By now you've probably heard that 56-year-old Japanese architect Shigeru Ban was announced Monday as the Pritzker Architecture Prize 2014 Laureate.  If nothing else, the award was a savvy recovery move for the Pritzker, besieged - and unmoved - last year by an energetic petition drive to redress the omission of Denise Scott Brown from the 1991 award give to her personal and professional partner Robert Venturi.  (The American Institute of Architects swiftly staked a counter-position last December by awarding their 2014 Gold Medal to Julia Morgan, a pioneering female architect who died in 1957.)
Centre Pompidou-Metz, 2010, France
Image courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects.  Photograph: Didier Boy de la Tour

Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne saw the naming of Ban as an response by the Pritzker jury to the narcissism of practitioners like Zaha Haid, who recently dismissed the death of nearly 900 immigrant workers at construction sites for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar as none of her concern, an attitude echoed by her associate/polemicist/PR flack Patrik Schumacher, who declared any regional individuality in architecture "distracting" and that the “cultures” he was really interested in are IT in Silicon Valley and Finance in London, culture, apparently, having evolved to defining where the largest pots of money can be found. It's a conception of architecture in proud service to the new feudalism looming at the end of age of the supply chain, a paradise where parametricism is the answer to every question, and the death and starvation of those making the grand visions flesh, however sad, is not really a problem as long as the checks clear.
Paper Log House, 1995, Kobe, Japan
image courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects. Photograph Takanobu Sakuma
 Ban is a very different kind of architect.  As defined in the Jury Citation, . . .
. . . for twenty years, [he] has been responding with creativity and high quality design to extreme situations caused by devastating natural disasters. His buildings provide shelter, community centers, and spiritual places for those who have suffered tremendous loss and destruction. When tragedy strikes, he is often there from the beginning, as in Rwanda, Turkey, India, China, Italy, and Haiti, and his home country of Japan, among others.

His creative approach and innovation, especially related to building materials and structures, not merely good intentions, are present in all his works. Through excellent design, in response to pressing challenges, Shigeru Ban has expanded the role of the profession; he has made a place at the table for architects to participate in the dialogue with governments and public agencies, philanthropists, and the affected communities. His sense of responsibility and positive action to create architecture of quality to serve society ́s needs, combined with his original approach to these humanitarian challenges, make this year ́s winner an exemplary professional.
Paper Refugree Shelters for Rwandan, 1999
Image courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects. 
. . . An underpinning uniting much of his built work is his experimental approach. He has expanded the architectural field regarding not only the problems and challenges he tackles, but also regarding the tools and techniques to deal with them. He is able to see in standard components and common materials, such as paper tubes, packing materials or shipping containers, opportunities to use them in new ways. He is especially known for his structural innovations and the creative use of unconventional materials like bamboo, fabric, paper, and composites of recycled paper fiber and plastics. 
To be sure, it's not all recycled plastic and cardboard tubes.  This summer, the Aspen Art Museum will open a new building designed by Ban, with a $45 million price tag.   Still, while no small number of architects respond quickly and generously to needs arising out of crisis, for Shigeru Ban it goes beyond individual gestures to being the bedrock of his practice.  
Curtain Wall House, 1995, Tokyo
Image Courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects.  Photograph: Hiroyuki Hirai
When Ban was in Chicago back in 2003 to chair the jury for a Chicago Architectural Club competition for the design of a large parking garage, he said that what resonated most strongly for him as an architect, in the aftermath of the 1995 Kobe Japan earthquake that claimed 6,500 lives, was that “people were not killed by the earthquake itself.  Most people were killed by the collapse of buildings.”  “Killer” architecture takes on a tragic new meaning.  If buildings are efficient enough to house the poor cheaply and pretty enough to satisfy the vanity of the rich,  isn't a little collateral damage a small price to pay?

No doubt the World Cup in Qatar will result in a number of important designs,  but can you really hope to construct a progressive architecture, no matter how beautiful the forms, out of the despair of those who build it?  If given a voice, how many of those who died would have chosen to forgo the honor? 
Tamedia Building, 2013, Zurich
Image Courtesy Shigeru Bank Architects Europe
Whether designing emergency shelters in Rwanda, an aluminum-paneled pavilion for Herm├Ęs, or a seven-story office building in Zurich with a structure of wood timbers, Shigeru Ban checkmates the cynicism of Hadid and Schumacher to mark an alternative path for architecture in the balancing of high creativity with basic human empathy.
Cardboard Cathedral, 2013, Christchurch, New Zealand
Image Courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects. Photograph Stephen Goodenough

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