A Humble Master

A Humble Master

Hanover Expo Japan Pavilion.
Hiroyuki Hirai

Shigeru Ban has been named the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate. Known for his inventive use of materials and for his relief work in disaster areas, Ban has built projects around the world and maintains offices in New York, Paris, and Tokyo. He is the seventh Japanese architect to win architecture’s most prestigious honor.

Ban reacted with shock to hearing he had won the prize. “When Martha Thorne [the executive director of the Pritzker] called to tell me, I thought she was joking,” Ban told AN. Ban had previously served as a juror for the prize, so he has a keen understanding of the significance of his selection. “I knew about the reason why I was chosen, and I knew that the reason was quite different from other laureates,” he said. “It was an encouragement for me to continue to do the kind of social work I do as well as making projects like museums and others, so I try to keep a balance between other kinds of projects and working in disaster areas. So I’m taking it as an encouragement rather than the award was for such achievement.”

Cardboard Cathedral.
Stephen Goodenough

The jury citation notes his innovative use of materials and structure. His satellite museum for the Centre Pompidou in Metz, France, is one such example. A basket-like super structure, made of woven timber covered in a lightweight translucent membrane, caps the complex, creating sheltered indoor/outdoor spaces that help dissolve the physical boundaries of the museum.

Ban is widely known for using paper tubes and disused shipping containers to create temporary and permanent structures. Projects like the Paper Church in Kobe, Japan, and Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, have brought dignified places of assembly and reflection to areas after earthquakes and other natural calamities.

Left to right: Wall-Less House; Centre Pompidou Metz; Paper Log House, India.
Hiroyuki Hirai; Didier Boy de la Tour; Kartikeya Shodhan

“Shigeru Ban is a force of nature, which is entirely appropriate in the light of his voluntary work for the homeless and dispossessed in areas that have been devastated by natural disasters,” said the Lord Palumbo, Prizker jury chairman, in a statement. “But he also ticks several boxes for qualification to the Architectural Pantheon—a profound knowledge of his subject with a particular emphasis on cutting-edge materials and technology; total curiosity and commitment; endless innovation; and infallible eye; and acute sensibility—to name but a few.”

At 56, Ban is relatively young to win the prize. As he takes on an increasing number of high profile cultural projects, including the Aspen Art museum in Colorado and a new concert hall in Paris, he sees the prize as an opportunity to reflect on his work and practice. “It’s an encouragement but it’s also a warning,” he said. “I design everything myself. It’s very important that I am involved in each project in a deep enough way. Now I feel my office has become too big, so in order to spend enough time on each project I should reduce the size of my office.” Through his modest and rigorous approach, Ban strives to continue to innovate and raise the standards for himself, for his work, and for the discipline of architecture.