Shigeru Ban, a design award for survival

The recognition of the figure of the architect Shigeru Ban (Tokyo, 1957) as Princess of Asturias Award for Concord 2022 It has a deep meaning that goes beyond what its individual figure deserves and transcends the field of discipline to refer to the role that the profession must play in society, and to its evolution.

The awarding of the prize to the Japanese architect values ​​his capacity for commitment to the less favored, to whom he has dedicated a good part of his extensive career. Since 1986 he has been experimenting with cardboard tubes as a structural material, with which he has built large-scale works, managing to combine lightness and reduced costs. They have a great creative load, based on the originality of the constructive solutions, postponing other aspects such as the search for beauty or the will to generate amazement.

Despite this, its original buildings admire, showing efficient and economical at the same time. Among the most relevant in Japan are the Curtain Wall House in Tokyo (1995), the Paper Church in Kobe (1995), the Naked House in Saitama (2000), and, in India, the paper bungalows in Bhuj, built every year. Next. One of the interventions where Ban achieved greater visibility was the Japan Pavilion at the 2000 Hannover Expo, which he conceived as a beautiful basket of obliquely braided paper tubes, enclosing a unique space reminiscent of the iron roofs of the 19th century markets and stations. In that pavilion he expressed the relationship between the traditional architecture of his country, of light and cheap elements, with the modern technology that characterizes Japanese industry.

With elegance and formal simplicity, he has achieved works of brilliant harmony in the Haesley Nine Bridges Golf Club House in Korea (2010), in the Pompidou Center in Metz (2010), and in the Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand (2013), built with light elements after the earthquake that devastated the city. In Madrid, in the same year, he created a pavilion with pressed paper tubes in the garden of the Instituto Empresa in Madrid, his only work to date in Spain.

Shigeru Ban's career transmits a high ethical burden, not only from its humanitarian side, but also exploring new ways of combining simple elements with a low budget to achieve more comfortable and human environments. He has dedicated his life to research on the use of humble materials and recyclable elements in construction, and has developed an enormous effort trying to ensure that responsible architecture reaches those most in need.

Shigeru Ban's interest in seeking alternative and sustainable ways to address the problems of human accommodation has led him to travel the world implementing his light emergency architectures in places with serious conflicts, devising projects in close contact and dialogue with the local population.

His architectural talent has allowed him to investigate new building materials and innovative lightweight structural systems that are quick to execute, in line with the best renovating architects of modern construction, who have paved the way for Le Corbusier, Jean Prouvé, Buckminster Fuller. and Frei Otto, capable of imagining a future in which architecture is made more efficiently.

Ban's qualities were already recognized when he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2014. Not only did his designs deserve the award, but also the proven effectiveness they provided when they were turned into reality and used during the emergencies of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the earthquake Kobe in 1995, the Haiti earthquake in 2010, or the Fukushima nuclear emergency in 2011.

Shigeru Ban's intervention in these catastrophes led him to understand that his work needed tools to be implemented effectively and he decided to create his own NGO, under the name of Voluntary Architects Network (VAN), which would undertake other tasks that did not specifically belong to the field of architecture, were of a social nature, of direct action. They started from the recognition that official agencies lack the appropriate instruments to deal with emergencies with the necessary urgency.

Through VAN, it processes all the factors involved in an emergency intervention, the search for funds, the materials, the training of the people who must implement them, achieving an efficiency that exceeds that of governments. Its collaboration with the United Nations has been efficient to date and it continues to draw the international community's attention to the need to provide greater power and means to humanitarian organizations capable of addressing global problems on a planetary level.

The prizes that have been awarded in recent years to architects who work in the field of social emergency and construction for the most needy seem to satisfy the demand for cooperation and harmony with the marginalized in the world economic concert. But they also invite melancholy, they show that, far from being a way to correct the imperfections of an effective system, it is a disproportionate type of effort in the face of the incessant increase in emergencies.

Earthquakes, floods, droughts and constant wars generate a growing volume of displaced people, homeless, in serious danger of survival, which represent a tragedy on a global scale. The individual and collective efforts to alleviate these catastrophes deserve all our admiration and respect, but their action involves treating the symptoms, not the causes.

Overpopulation is not only the biggest problem facing humanity, it is also the gravity accelerator of them all. The concentration of this population on the sea shores, with a rising sea level, is a guarantee that the difficulties will not stop growing. The brutal contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere and the consequent global warming is another generator of catastrophes whose disastrous consequences are already palpable. The growing concentration of human beings in large megacities means that the scale of complications grows in urban spaces that are increasingly dissociated from the natural environment and more dependent on those who provide the means to make them work.

The way in which the economic and political system deals with the problems generated by itself lacks the necessary energy and conviction to solve them. In this scenario of systemic inaction against the deep conflicts of society, individual contributions represent meritorious efforts, but in no case should we think that they represent the solution. They serve to raise awareness of the issues that would need to be resolved, but the importance of the challenge requires the use of another scale and a greater number of means, because they should avoid human suffering in its most extreme degree.

It is very worrying that small NGOs like those of the previous awarded by the Princess of Asturias Foundation, the chef José Andrésor that of Shigeru Ban, the Voluntary Architects Network, are more effective in fighting humanitarian emergencies than governments with huge budgets whose main effort is directed at paying interest on the debt and hardly have the funds to deal effectively with the emergencies caused by natural disasters or political turmoil.

Shigeru Ban's recent words of thanks for the award are related to the most serious emergency currently affecting our continent: "I am truly delighted with such a prestigious award for my relief efforts, which I have been carrying out since 1994, through of architectural projects for refugees, and disasters that have occurred around the world. Also, through continued support for refugees from UkraineI will do my best to do my best with this Grand Prix, and I would like to link this recognition to the next stage of post-war reconstruction.”

The award to Shigeru Ban highlights the importance of architecture in everyone's life, and the obligation to rely on architects to improve the living conditions of those who need it most, a group that increasingly includes a greater number of people. Architects must apply their knowledge, imagination and practical intelligence to improve collective livelihoods by adding foresight, planning, empathy and generosity to their work.

If most architects work for a client, some work for society, and a few for those damaged by emergencies, Shigeru Ban is a professional who watches over survival, and unfortunately, that welfare is reduced to survival threatens to the whole of the human species in addition to affecting the victims of catastrophes.

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