Every year, a top architect is chosen for the Pritzker Prize. It highlights a unique, creative, and successful architect and their work. This year, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban received the Pritzer, thanks to his intricate and involving designs using cardboard tubes.
Ban has been creating cardboard tube buildings for about 30 years and has expanded his scope steadily throughout this time. He started making temporary designs to show at exhibitions. These designs were relatively simple at first, but Ban quickly expanded his repertoire to a wide variety of different designs.
His designs include grid-shell pavilions, a geodesic office in Paris, cardboard tunnels, and a variety of art galleries. Ban orders his tubes directly from cardboard tube manufacturers. These manufacturers create the tubes that he needs, reinforcing them for strength. Ban’s architectural knowledge helps minimize strain and stress, keeping his buildings light but strong.
Ban’s designs are definitely unique, but the Pritzker jury also chose him due to his humanitarian work. Ban has provided relief to refugees during the Rwandan Civil War. He proposed and helped build paper-tube shelters for these refugees. These inexpensive shelters were light enough to easily transport, but offered displaced refugees comfortable shelter. He also sent paper-tube shelters to people displaced during the Kobe earthquake. Ban also founded the “Voluntary Architects’ Network. This network has provided relief in Turkey, India, China, and many other places hit by natural disasters.
Ban’s most famous cardboard building may be the cathedral built in Christchurch, New Zealand. The previous cathedral had been destroyed by an earthquake. Ban’s cathedral was an inexpensive, yet elegant and beautiful replacement. It still stands next to the ruins of the original stone building, which serves as a reminder of the destructive forces of the Earth.
There have been only seven Japanese architects to receive the Pritzker since its founding in 1979. Previous Japanese winners included Kenzo Tange, Fumihiko Maki, Tadao Ando, and Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishi. The 2013 winner was Japanese architect Toyo Ito.
The Pritzker prize was founded by Jay A. Pritzker and his wife Cindy and is considered the “Nobel Prize” of the architecture. It is rewarded regardless of race, gender, ideology or nationality. Recipients win 100,000 US dollars, a certificate, and a bronze medallion inspired with the Latin phrase “firmitas, utilitas, venustas” which translates to firmness, commodity, and delight. These three words describe the standards utilized in deciding on award winners.