JULY 24, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 3
ALSO IN TIME
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He Builds with a Really Tough Material: Paper
By BELINDA LUSCOMBE
There are a few ineluctable facts about buildings. They are expensive,
time consuming and labor intensive to make. They are strongest if built
from the sturdiest materials. Well, no, on all counts. Japanese architect
Shigeru Ban has built homes, pavilions and churches, some of them permanent,
using little more than cardboard tubes. "I was interested in weak materials,"
says Ban, 42. "Whenever we invent a new material or new structural system,
a new architecture comes out of it." Ironically, Ban may be closer to
the old modernist ideals than many who build today in glass and steel.
He wants beauty to be attainable by the masses, even the poorest.
Ban first began to use the tubes in the '80s, in exhibitions. Impressed
by the material's load-bearing capacity (he calls cardboard "improved
wood"), he thought of them again in 1995, after the Kobe earthquake, and
used donated 34-ply tubes to build a community hall and houses. Working
with the United Nations, Ban has shipped paper log houses to Turkey and
Rwanda. "Refugee shelter has to be beautiful," he says. "Psychologically,
refugees are damaged. They have to stay in nice places."
But it's not all about utility. Ban has managed to turn ugly-duckling
cardboard into some gorgeous swans. The Japanese pavilion he created for
this year's EXPO 2000 in Hannover, Germany, is a huge undulating grid
of paper tubes enclosed, like a covered wagon, with a paper canopy. An
eight-ton, 27-m-long lattice arch of tubes currently swoops over the garden
at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, casting a thatch of ever
Ban's designs touch the earth lightly in more ways than one. After EXPO
2000, his pavilion will be shipped to a recycling center to be returned
to the pulp from whence it came. Just try that with bricks.
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