Reviewer biography

Current Reviews

Review Articles

Book Reviews Archive

Shigeru Ban: an Architect for Emergencies

by Michel Quinejure, Director
First Run/Icarus Films, Brooklyn, New York, 2006
Video-DVD, 52 mins., col.
Sales, video/DVD: $390; rental, video: $75
Distributor’s website: http://www.frif.com.

Reviewed by Nameera Ahmed


The work of Shigeru Ban is vastly impressive because of the diametrically opposite juxtapositions he has used in his work. His innovative work with ‘paper architecture’ in not only the geographically fragile earthquake-hit areas, but also permanent ‘to-order’ constructions has added a new dimension to the meaning and use of ‘weak’ materials as strong, structural building-blocks. Much as one would like to attribute his use of paper in making buildings to his Japanese origins, Ban denies that connection: “In Japanese houses paper is used for the sliding doors, the ‘shoji’, or ‘fusuma’. It is traditionally used as an enclosure and never as a structure. I think that my work is not influenced by Japanese designs, rather by Greek architecture. My only influence from a Japanese tradition consists in using and accepting a weak material“.

The documentary Shigeru Ban: an Architect for Emergencies
gives us a working portrait of Shigeru Ban, by showcasing some of his important work, including his relief work in earthquake-hit areas. Introducing us to the subject with abrupt percussion music to create a feeling of disruption and emergency, the film commences with the sounds and images of buildings being torn down, with cranes removing debris from fallen buildings, and introducing us to what an earthquake-struck urban terrain looks like. Shigeru Ban makes houses for earthquake victims out of recycled paper rolls and cardboard tubes.

His first such houses were made in 1995 in Kobe. “I’d never been to a place destroyed by an earthquake before Kobe. After the Kobe earthquake, Vietnamese refugees lived in dingy, dirty tents.” As an architect, he says he feels really responsible for this. Moreover, “a natural disaster,” he thinks, “involves later problems of water and food supplies, providing medical aid, and above all, a big concern for re-housing people…” Therefore, he says, “I designed the paper houses project and I implemented it during the summer holidays with students.”

The filmmaker Michel Quinejure gives the audience an experience of Ban’s methodologies by taking us to earthquake-hit Kaynasli in Turkey. We get to experience the making of one of these sturdy earthquake houses. We take a car ride to Kaynasli, with Ban and a local Turkish architect, giving us an overview of the damage caused by the earthquake. We learn that these houses take from six to ten hours each to build. Tubes are coated with polyurethane to make them waterproof. Work goes on into the night to add the final touches to these relief houses. Themselves being made out of trees, and not artificial products, these paper-tube houses insulate well and provide a feeling of comfort, besides maintaining a constant temperature. The paper-tubes can be re-cycled, just as the plastic beer crates, which provide the foundations for the houses, can be re-used by the beer factories later. Another practical aspect of these tubes according to Ban is: “the paper tube is not building material that’s why it’s very easy to get locally.”

Three weeks later, as more snow falls, the houses stand on the snow-covered plains, still providing protection to their inhabitants in extreme weather. To prevent it from becoming another shanty-town, and be more acceptable to the neighbourhoods, it was also necessary to improve the outside appearance of the houses. He gives importance to making attractive-looking houses for people whose psychology is already affected in disaster-struck areas.
Interview scenes with Turkish victims going about their daily chores: a woman bringing soup and bread home and a young man setting up his gas heaters, while a young woman shows off her new paper home, are all very endearing.

Shigeru-Ban says, “According to me there’s no real difference between ‘temporary’ and permanent houses, or between refugee shelters and ‘on order’ housesthe quality must remain the same”. From the Turkish town we arrive at the Hannover Expo 2000 area, where Japanese builders are working on a high tech organic structure, made with the paper-tubes, which Ban admits is “the most complicated construction I have ever done”. Ban has also designed and implemented many other paper-tube projects besides the Earthquake Houses in Kayisli, Turkey: the Paper Dome, Gero, Japan, 1998; Japanese Pavilion for 2000 Exposition in Hannover; House with Double Roof in Yamamaka Lake, Japan; Miyake Design Studio Gallery, Tokyo; Hanegi Forest  Home, Tokyo; Ivy Structure 2 in Tokyo; Tim Hawkinson Exhibition; GC Building in Osaka; Paper Church of Takatori in Kobe; 9 Square Grids House in Hadano and Temporary Houses for Vietnamese refugees after the Kobe earthquake, exhibiting the variety and versatility of his innovative technique and style.

Although the film
Shigeru Ban: an Architect for Emergencies gives an informative overview into Ban’s work, it desires a more dramatic treatment that may suit the nature of Ban’s work itself by concentrating more on the ‘emergency’ aspect of Ban’s architecture. The filmmaker could have brought more into the limelight Ban’s unique construction material and could have given more details about the paper-tube itself, which makes Ban’s work on emergency architecture possible.




Updated 1st May 2008

Contact LDR: ldr@leonardo.org

Contact Leonardo: isast@leonardo.info

copyright © 2008 ISAST