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Shigeru Ban, the architecture of paper

By Jeffrey Head

There are architects whose work exists only on paper. Then there is Shigeru Ban. The architect (pronounced she-gay-roo BAHN) has gained fame partly from work made of paper. The new Rizzoli book “Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture,” edited by Ian Luna and Lauren A. Gould with essays by Riichi Miyake, shows how Ban has brought new meaning to architecture with his use of recycled cardboard paper tubes. “Paper is made out of trees,” Ban says. “Humans create architecture out of trees, so it must be possible to create architecture out of paper.”

Pictured here: Ban’s weekend residence, the Paper House in Lake Yamanaka, Yamanashi, Japan (1995). (“Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture” / Rizzoli)
The Paper House was the first Ban structure approved by the Japanese government to use paper tubes as a structural material in the construction of a permanent building. (“Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture” / Rizzoli)
The Odawara Pavilion in Kanagawa, Japan (1990). The temporary multipurpose hall was built with 330 paper tubes, each 26 feet long. Clear vinyl tubes seal the gaps between the paper tubes and let in natural light. One paper tube, about 48 inches in diameter, contained a toilet. (“Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture” / Rizzoli)
This chair has detachable legs made of industrial-strength paper tubes (1997). When removed for storage, the legs fit inside the continuous bent plywood seat. (“Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture” / Rizzoli)
This rendering shows Ban’s design for a temporary Guggenheim museum in Tokyo (2001). Within the one-story steel and concrete structure, paper tubes were planned for a barrel-vaulted room, a colonnade and a domed pavilion in the center of the building. Stacked shipping containers were another component in this project. (“Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture” / Rizzoli)
The Vasarely Pavilion was Ban’s outdoor seating area meant to last one week in Aix-en-Provence, France (2006). The tension and compression of the joints and the hexagonal shape of the structure evoke the forms of geodesic dome designer Buckminster Fuller. (“Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture” / Rizzoli)
Ban designed an elementary school built in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in western China. For the gabled roof, Ban used corrugated sheets of polycarbonate on top of an insulating layer of Styrofoam that created diffused lighting through large holes. The paper-tube columns and beams were connected with wood joints. (“Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture” / Rizzoli)
One of Ban’s international disaster relief projects was for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Rwanda (1999). Made with recycled paper tubes connected to injection-molded plastic joints, this shelter was designed so that locals could build it themselves with a manual. (“Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture” / Rizzoli)
The Nomadic Museum in New York (2005) was a temporary exhibition space featuring Canadian photographer Gregory Colbert’s large-scale prints. The cathedral-like hall was set between two walls of stacked shipping containers. Paper tubes – 1 to 2.5 feet in diameter supported the roof. (“Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture” / Rizzoli)
Ban’s temporary Nomadic Museum in Santa Monica (2006) had a checkerboard exterior created with local shipping containers. The West Coast installation differed from its New York counterpart in that the Santa Monica building was built with two sets of parallel containers. To meet building codes, the structure was anchored for earthquake safety. (“Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture” / Rizzoli)
“Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture” includes essays by Riichi Miyake and was edited by Ian Luna and Lauren A. Gould. The 232-page book was published by Rizzoli. It costs $65. (“Shigeru Ban: Paper in Architecture” / Rizzoli)
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