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The traditional Japanese home has been refined over centuries, its' individual elements consistently appeal across cultures and times:  shoji screens, rock gardens, a flow and connection between interior and exterior, the orchestrated views of nature, a palpable emptiness that frames the few objects in a space and magnifies the details of workmanship.  The design of the home reflects Japanese values, culture and history.


Shigeru Ban started with the home.  He has applied the elements and underlying ethos of the historical residential architecture of his birthplace to a contemporary architectural practice.  His projects simultaneously touch upon a primitive evocation of shelter and the demands of a complex modern society.  He has melded Japanese tradition with new materials, mobility and modularity.

Following is a chronological selection of influential projects.  Together, these illustrate the evolving concerns of Shigeru Ban's practice.  Click on the project names to link to that projects page on the architects website.

The early Furniture House 1 starts with uniform structural 'furniture' units, pre-made and put in place on a foundation at a site.  These support the roof and allow for rapid construction .  Replacing shoji screens with a giant exterior curtain on two sides of the Curtain Wall House allows an alternation between public and private lives.  The Paper House extends the use of paper tubes to functioning architecture.  The needs of a family to be together and have separate activities is fulfilled in the Naked House- a translucent outer structure encloses four small 'rooms' on casters that can be moved, pushed together or even rolled outside.  The Picture Window House is a vacation home that hovers above the living area, a broad platform open on two sides, framing a panoramic view of the sea.

Other projects include the Nomadic Museum where the shipping containers used to transport this movable museum were also stacked at the site to become the walls.  The dramatic undulations of the Japan Pavilion at Expo 2000 Hanover contrast the visceral beauty of this structure with a successful experiment in simple construction, reusable parts and a recyclable building.  Extending these ideas to a different function is the self explanatory Paper Bridge.  Large projects under construction are the Pompidou Center Metz and the Metal Shutter House a condominium project in New York city. (t.v.)


Excerpt from a DesignBoom Interview

shigeru ban

was born in 1957 in tokyo, japan.
he studied at the southern california institute of architecture
from 1977 - 80, later furthering his studies at the cooper union
school of architecture from 1980 graduating in 1984.
he began his career working for japanese architect arata isozaki
before establishing his own private practice in 1985. ban became
internationally recognized for his work with paper and recycled
cardboard tubes which he used to create temporary structures
for victims of the kobe earthquake in 1995. that same year he
established NGO: VAN (voluntary architects network).
he has taught at numerous schools including the tama art
university, yokohama national university, nihon university,
columbia university and keio university. throughout his career
he has received many awards including the 'best young architect
of the year' award from the japan institute of architecture in 1997,
as well as the world architecture award for his design of the
'japan pavillion', 2001 and the 'thomas jefferson medal in
architecture' in 2005.

designboom met shigeru ban in milan, italy on april 22nd, 2009..

describe your style, like a good friend of yours would
describe it.
actually my best friends are my partners
... and I have a good friend in paris, in tokyo and new york.
they say that I don't like to come back to things I've already
resolved and many of my structures are not meant to be
permanent. I've always been interested in using material.
in a new way.

how many people work in your office
or are collaborating with you steadily?
I have about 18 people in tokyo, 10 in paris and 5 in new york.

so you regularly travel from new york to tokyo to paris,
that's a busy life. do you have time for family?
I just work, I don't have time for family.

please describe an evolution in your work,
from your first projects to the present day.
I think my work has been continually changing
since the beginning.

do you have a favorite material ?
I particularly like steel, but paper too can be strong
and permanent.
we need to get rid of material prejudices.

who would you like to design something for?
actually I'm interested in designing anything from a chair to a museum, a refugee house to an airport - anything.
I don't have any particular person I want to work with.
I do not choose anyone like refugees or poor people,
I have projects which come to me.
I have seen the works of alvar aalto and where he has
curated every little detail inside his house.
I would like to design everything inside of a building,
but usually we architects do not receive enough of these
projects to be able to do this.

the earthquake shelters, your groundbreaking
work of using non-traditional materials,
are you continuing these projects?
I did a project in sichuan, china last year after the
earthquake, building temporary schools and currently
I'm meeting with some architects in genoa (italy) talking
about the area of l'aquila near rome, you know where the
earthquake happened in april this year.
regarding the use of non-traditional materials, in 2007
I designed a bridge, located over the gardon river in
southern france, it is made almost entirely out of
cardboard tubes.

in 2007 you designed the paper pavillion for
artek / UPS in finland, are you going to continue
to experiment with new materials?
I don't develop many new materials. I usually use existing
material differently. in this instance it was unusual as artek
came to me and asked me to work with this particular
material created from industrial waste of paper and plastic.
this year I have made a seating system with that recycled
composite. the'10-unit system' is based on the ‘L-unit system’
I did back in 1993. L-shaped units which can be combined
to make chairs, benches, seating lines.

what other objects have you created?
most recently a prototype of a light-weight chair that uses
carbon fiber TENAX®, in these days on show at the
tokyo fiber senseware exhibition and a bowl for the small
danish company ‘when objects work’..
I have never designed tableware before,
so it was challenging. I think its interesting to use an idea from
my architecture and convert it into a small object.
the bowls take their shape from the metz centre pompidou -
the geometry is the same. well, actually this is a prototype.
I've tried to make this in wood but we are still in the
developing process. its very difficult to construct due to all
the bending that is required.
its really a new kind of experimentation.

and what else?
some lighting fixtures in the eighties and a few cardboard
chairs for cappellini in 1998. ...and a ball point pencil for
a company in hawaii in 2004.

design is an art form - in the field of design ‘form’
is also used as expression, where do you collocate
your approach?
my main concern is that the product should be functional.

but sometimes you have the choice
between two or more solutions ?
in that instance I would consider what is more functional,
and more economical. I try to be very pragmatic.

is there any designer and/or architect from the past,
you appreciate a lot?
mies van der rohe, my professor john hejduk
from cooper union school of architecture and alvar aalto.

and those still working / contemporary?
I particularly like otto frei otto as I worked with him and
he was very influential to me, emilio ambasz ... many.

what advice would you give to the young?
actually I miss teaching (I quit university last year)
advice? travel!
then you can understand different cultures of the world
and don't depend on the computer.

shigeru ban
portrait © designboom

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