Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban wins 2014 Pritzker Prize

March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
When disaster strikes, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban springs to action. Over the past two decades he has used recyclable materials to craft structures in disaster zones. Among them is this "Cardboard Cathedral" in Christchurch, New Zealand. When disaster strikes, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban springs to action. Over the past two decades he has used recyclable materials to craft structures in disaster zones. Among them is this "Cardboard Cathedral" in Christchurch, New Zealand.
HIDE CAPTION
Shigeru Ban: Architect of disaster relief
Christchurch, New Zealand
Hannover, Germany
L'Aquila, Italy
L'Aquila, Italy
Chengdu, China
Chengdu, China
Kirinda, Sri Lanka
Fukushima, Japan
Onagawa, Japan
Onagawa, Japan
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Paris, France
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Shigeru Ban is the third Japanese architect to win the Pritzker Prize in five years
  • Ban has spent two decades building structures for victims of natural disasters
  • He has built cathedrals from cardboard tubes and homes from beer crates

(CNN) -- Shigeru Ban, the 57-year-old winner of this year's Pritzker Prize -- arguably the world's most prestigious architecture award -- is the Rumpelstiltskin of building design.

For more than two decades he has taken simple materials, including paper and cardboard, and created life-changing structures for people impacted by natural disasters.

In the aftermath of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, Ban built temporary homes for Vietnamese refugees using beer crates filled with sandbags.

Shigeru Ban, architect
Shigeru Ban, architect

In 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami devastated large parts of Japan, Ban crafted homes from shipping containers.

Read: A rare snoop inside homes of some of the world's greatest living architects

Last year he erected a cathedral made out of cardboard paper tubes for the people of Christchurch, New Zealand.

From Haiti to Rwanda to China, his low-cost structures become symbols of hope for people rebuilding their lives.

"For me there is no difference between monumental architecture and temporary structures in disaster areas," he tells CNN. "They give me the same kind of satisfaction."

Ban is the second Japanese artist in a row to win the prestigious award, following on from last year's winner Toyo Ito.

Human to Hero: Wang Shu
Architecture fit for royalty
China: An architects' playground

Tom Pritzker, Chairman and President of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the Pritzker Prize, said: "He is an outstanding architect who, for twenty years, has been responding with creativity and high quality design to extreme situations caused by devastating natural disasters. His buildings provide shelter, community centers, and spiritual places for those who have suffered tremendous loss and destruction."

Read: The world's most remarkable miniature hideaways

Congratulations on winning the Pritzker Prize. Where were you when you heard the news?

I was driving in Tokyo and I got the phone call from [executive director of the Pritzker Architecture Prize] Martha Thorne. Since I was on the jury from 2006 to 2009, I thought she was just joking. I had to stop and park the car.

You've earned global recognition for bridging the humanitarian and aesthetic aspects of architecture. Was it really such a surprise that you had won?

Honestly, it was a big surprise. I didn't expect it. As a juror I knew the level of the past winners and I didn't think I was at that level. But then it was explained to me that this year the jury considered not only the argument of architecture, but also my activities in disaster areas for 20 years. I carry on both activities simultaneously. So I thought this was not awarded because I reached a certain level as an architect, but as encouragement for me to continue working in disaster areas as well as designing architecture.

Even more opportunities will now come your way. Is there a risk this prize could actually distract you from continuing your humanitarian work?

When some people receive a big award there are more opportunities for their projects and to expand their offices. I don't want to make my office bigger. I like to design everything by myself and to go to the sites. I want to keep working in disaster areas. If I get more projects then I can spend less time on each project and I don't want to lower the quality of each project. I think we have to be very careful to keep doing the same things, as we have done.

How did the idea of working with cardboard come to you?

I was very disappointed about our profession. I thought that as architects we could work more for society.
Shigeru Ban

The strength and durability of a building has nothing to do with the material. Even a building built in concrete can be destroyed very easily. There can be a permanent building made out of cardboard tubes. In fact many of my temporary buildings have become permanent. When I first used the cardboard tube for the interior I knew this is strong enough to be a part of the structure.

Starchitects tend to devote the bulk of their time to glamorous commissions. What drove you to disaster relief?

I was very disappointed about our profession. I thought that as architects we could work more for society. Historically speaking, architecture clients are people who had the money and the power. They wanted to visualize power and money with monumental architecture. That was the architect's basic job historically. I'm not saying that is a bad thing. I also want to make a monument. But I thought we should use our experience and knowledge for the public and victims of natural disasters too. I get the same satisfaction when I design a building for a disaster. There is no difference. The only difference is I am not paid. It's pro bono.

Are there young architects in the pipeline who want to follow in your footsteps?

When I give the lecture I always feel a strong reaction from young architects and students. They are interested in working for society and joining my team. When I was a student we used to think, "I want to be a starchitect and big developer." The attitudes of young people are changing and I feel that. If I have been able to help. I think this is my biggest pleasure.

Do you have any advice for those who want to go into "disaster architecture"?

I appreciate when people want to come and join my team and do this work. But instead of just working in a disaster area it's important to travel a lot and to experience different cultures, different climates. It's important for them to be good architects first.

Read: Seoul unveils $451 million 'spaceship' landmark

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
CNN Style
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
After surviving Vichy prisons and Nazi concentration camps, Brian Stonehouse became one of the most prominent fashion illustrators of his age.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
Award-winning photographer Phil Stern captured everything from the battlefield to Hollywood Boulevard. These are his most iconic images.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0216 GMT (1016 HKT)
The Sony World Photography Awards has released a collection of some of the competition's most beautiful entrants.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Zaha Hadid Qatar 2020 stadium
Are sports stadiums modern-day cathedrals? Leading architects say arenas will soon become our most important social spaces.
December 9, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Whether you think stuffed animals are cool, beautiful, or downright disturbing, this is taxidermy like you've never seen it before.
December 4, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Studio 54 has become synonymous with the glamor and excess of the late Seventies. These rare images capture its debauched side.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 1325 GMT (2125 HKT)
It's official: London's getting another landmark. This time it's a stunning plant-covered bridge partly inspired by Leonardo DiCaprio.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 0747 GMT (1547 HKT)
1947 Ferrari 125 S, Enzo Ferrari Museum, Modena
For fans of Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Pagani, this corner of Europe is a petrol-powered promised land.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 1013 GMT (1813 HKT)
Victoria Beckham and Emma Watson were among the designers, models and taste-makers recognized at this year's British Fashion Awards.
December 2, 2014 -- Updated 1648 GMT (0048 HKT)
Duncan Campbell's It For Others, which features a dance inspired by Karl Marx and examines African art, has won the prestigious art prize.
December 1, 2014 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Simon Beck decorates snow-covered lakes and mountainsides with massive geometric designs using his footsteps as his implement.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
Houses that melt, float and flip upside down? Alex Chinneck's playful architecture sparks the imagination and begs for a photo-op.
ADVERTISEMENT