Architect Shigeru Ban has gained worldwide-renown for his extraordinary structures made with paper and cardboard. His “three-dimensional” poetry has provided crucial shelter to victims of disaster across the world, at sites as far-flung as Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey. Ban recently spoke with Impact Design Hub about how permanence has become temporary in architecture, how temporary can sometimes become permanent, and what the responsibility of the designer is to help make a better world.


Impact Design Hub: You have built relief structures following many natural disasters around the world. Do different kinds of disasters require different responses? Or are people’s needs broadly the same everywhere, no matter the circumstances?

Shigeru Ban: For each situation, the appropriate solution is different. Whenever I receive a request for help, I always go to the area affected. I need to see and understand the local situation for myself — the local weather, local culture — and also find local factories that can potentially provide materials for the site. And I meet professors and students of architecture at the local university who can lend their help.

When I went to Turkey after the Izmit earthquake in 1999, a local architect told me that people would not accept structures made of paper. But in reality, people were afraid of aftershocks from the earthquake and slept in tents put up outside of the concrete buildings. So the Paper Log House, made from a light material like paper, was welcomed. More recently, in Nepal, traditional buildings made with brick were turned to rubble by the earthquake. Local people said they never wanted to live in a masonry house again. At the same time, in the field, I found out that the biggest problem was how to dispose of the rubble brick accumulated in the wreckage. So I designed an earthquake-resistant building by reusing the brick rubble with a wooden frame. The design employs a wooden frame as a main structure and uses the rubble simply as enclosure — the walls. This is a safer, and also easier way to obtain the materials…

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This article was originally published on our partner’s site Impact Design Hub on the 13th April 2016.