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Architecture has no nationality

14 of October '22

Shigeru Ban, a world-renowned architect hails from Japan, studied in the United States at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles and the Cooper Union School of Architecture in New York, and has worked all over the world. Immediately after graduating in 1984, he started his own practice, opening his first studio in Tokyo. Among his projects are designs for exhibition, sacred, commercial or private spaces. Winner of the Pritzker Prize (2014), known as the architectural Nobel Prize, he now maintains studios on three continents in Tokyo, Paris and New York. He is the creator of a shelter system for victims of natural disasters and armed conflicts used in Japan, Haiti, Rwanda, Italy, India, China and Poland, among others.

Early in his career, Shigeru Ban discovered that architects work more for privileged groups than for the general public. The modern world craves power and money out of sight. To secure their coveted visibility, people commission female architects and architects to create "monuments." However, according to Ban, architects should do more than that. With this statement, the artist opened his lecture at the SARP Pavilion on September 28, "Balancing Architectural Works and Social Contributions," as part of the special event "Shigeru Ban and Architecture for Refugees," organized by Geberit in cooperation with the Warsaw Branch of the Association of Polish Architects.

SARP Pavilion lecture

The lecture at the SARP Pavilion "Balancing Architectural Works and Social Contributions"

photo: Iwona Dziuk

Shigeru Ban started his business by designing exhibition spaces. One of his first projects was the arrangement of the exhibition space of Alvar Aalto's furniture and glass objects at the headquarters of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1986). The architect was keen to reflect the aesthetics and philosophy of the master. However, the budget was very limited, and the materials used were to be disposed of after dismantling. Wanting to avoid high costs and waste of raw materials, Shigeru Ban decided to go for recycled paper tubes, which were supposed to imitate wood. It turned out that this is not only an excellent substitute, a decorative component, but also a building block that allows creation in virtually any conditions. Shortly after the realization in New York, he began testing the possibilities of the paper pipe, including using it as a structural element. The motif later appeared in many of Shigeru Ban's monumental projects initially realized in Japan, including some very exclusive ones, such as Paper Arbor (1989), Miyake Design Studio Gallery (1994), Paper House (1995). During this time, the architect also became a Consultant to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and founded the NGO VAN Voluntary Architect's Network . Exploration of the technological field and exploitation of the material led to the creation of the Paper Partition System, today used in emergency situations around the world.

In 2004, after the earthquake in Japan's Niigata Prefecture, in the Chūetsu region, Shigeru Ban began to develop structures using paper as a building block for providing and organizing space for people in crisis. By then, he had reached for a familiar material and began working on the ideal solution. The system evolved over the years, and several versions were created, with the main differences being the method of assembly. A technology was also developed to protect the structure from water and fire.

Former Tesco in Chelm as a temporary shelter

The former Tesco in Chelm as a temporary shelter

Photo: Jerzy Lątka

The solution involves connecting cardboard tubes together to form frames. The simple, inexpensive and environmentally friendly system has found use in many emergency situations in recent years, including after the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Paper partitions separating a private zone in a temporary common space, including in sports halls or lecture halls, provided improved living conditions for those in dramatic situations. After February 24, the Paper Partition System was used in Ukraine, Slovakia, France and Germany. In Poland, it has been used in Chelm, Wroclaw, Przemyśl, Slupsk, Starogard Gdanski, Jaroslaw district and Warsaw.

The pavilions designed by Shigeru Ban were built by architecture students

The pavilions designed by Shigeru Ban in Chelm were built thanks to architecture students

photo: Jerzy Łątka

Shigeru Ban considers people's needs to be universal regardless of geographic location. He thinks about architecture in the most democratic way. For him, there is no context that changes needs, and it is the provision of these needs that he considers the purpose of an architect/architect's work. This profession is, in his view, a kind of duty. People need a space that gives security, and it is also necessary to ensure the comfort of staying in it. Shigeru Ban therefore introduces architecture to the ethical dimension of its activities, drawing attention to the causality of the discipline, the responsibility of architects and the purpose of their work recognizing empathy as a necessary quality to create projects that meet the needs of society. Shigeru Ban's practice does not consider any categories. The architect even states that there are no differences in the design of museums and shelters. He shows that we err, often focusing on our own egos or irrelevant issues, while it is designing for people that is the most important goal.

Marta Sekulska-Wronska and Shigeru Ban

Marta Sekulska-Wronska and Shigeru Ban

Photo: Iwona Dziuk

During the event in Warsaw, where other speakers, including Lukasz Piątek, Kosma Kolodziej, Anna Pashynska, Tania Pashynska, Anca Bolohan, Magda Garncarek andDorota Sibinska shared their experiences and encounters with Shigeru Ban's legacy, an important voice resounded about the need to help the other and the place of architecture in this process.


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