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Ban Aid

Shigeru Ban builds hope and shelter in the ruins

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban never imagined he’d be known as a pioneer, or the go-to “relief architect”, but those terms are increasingly heard in reference to the 54-year-old graduate of Cooper Union in the US, whose work on temporary housing shelters for victims of natural disaster and war seems far removed from the current obsession with structural pornography so prevalent in the media. He spoke to ISBN about his relief work in Japan and New Zealand, prior his trip to Hong Kong, where he will speak at Business of Design Week [BODW] in December.

Do you use technology, and how did the late Steve Jobs impact on your work?
I always try not to use technology. I have the iPad, but I don’t like to carry an iPhone. E-mail is really terrible. I don’t think it’s really good. I think technology has gone too far. I hate people checking e-mail during conferences and meetings. Direct communication is better than sending e-mail.

How much has your approach to building temporary shelters evolved in the last decade?
I simply adapt to different conditions, adapting to local conditions, there is no one system to apply each time. Every time I go there and find out the most appropriate way.

What about victim expectations as clients? Are victims demanding even though they’re victims?

Yes. even victims are very demanding sometimes. They want a certain kind of partitioning. But mostly, they are very happy. I have to combine
the needs of victims and authorities, because I have to get permission. Demands from victims and authorities are of course different. Unless I satisfy both, it’s impossible to realise even just a simple partition.

Have architects lost sight of their civic duty and become too infatuated with so-called ‘trophy’ projects?
When you look at the position of architects, we are trained, not just to build for society, but also the privileged people: to realise their power and money which is invisible, so they ask us to make a monument, to visualise their power and money. A lot of architects are now asking themselves whether they want to make these monuments or more broad-based projects. Many younger architects and students are beginning to support my kind of project. When I started this in 1994, no other architect was doing anything like it.
Frank Gehry once told me about sexuality and architecture. A subject not much discussed, he said, but one that should be. Where do you stand on that subject?
I’m not the right person to ask a question like that. In fact, I’ve never ...

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Images: ©Voluntary Architects Network