Famous and humble is a rare combination. Shigeru Ban is both these things and he is funny to boot. Wednesday night, at Cooper Union, his alma mater, Ban gave a historical overview of his work to date. In a 2014 profile of Ban in the New Yorker entitled Paper Palaces Diana Goodyear covered all aspects of Ban’s career. What wasn’t covered was his enormous sense of humor. Ban designed a building for Swatch’s luxury brands in the Tokyo’s Ginza district. The building features a 13-story tall hanging garden. To illustrate the height of the interior “lobby” space, in his drawings and model of the building Ban added a kangaroo. When the building was complete and the client came to inspect the space; the following question was asked: “Where is the kangaroo?” Ban answered: “That was just to illustrate the height.” Client “I won’t accept the building, without the kangaroo.”
Shigeru Ban is synonymous with temporary housing for victims of natural and man-made disasters. Ban was asked to solve the following problem. The UN provides plastic sheeting for disaster victims. These plastic sheets are made into tents using wood poles. Where do the wood poles come from? The only place possible: nearby forests. Deforestation was a result of this method of providing housing to disaster victims. The UN realized what was happening and provided metal poles for the plastic sheeting. Victims of these disasters also realized something. The metal poles were valuable: they were like money in the bank. In fact, that is exactly what they were. People sold the metal poles and went back to cutting down trees to make wood poles. Shigeru Ban was called in. His now famous solution: paper tubes. These tubes have no re-sale value, they are waterproofed, cheap and strong.
Ban was asked why he is interested in disaster relief.
“Privileged people hire an architect to visualize their power and money. For people, who have lost their homes to a disaster, it is opportunity to make things better.”
Question: Isn’t it painful to go to these places and see entire neighborhoods, even cities destroyed… lives shattered?
SB: Painful? No. I am proud to have the opportunity. It’s problem solving. I am often invited by local people and involve local people in the process of construction. It’s a positive experience for me.
Bilie Tsien introduced Shigeru Ban. Tsien quoted the Pope’s first Encyclical on the Environment, referring to the earth as “our common home.” It was clear that Shigeru Ban thinks of the the world as his common home.