Though no stranger to gigantic, shiny edifices and big-money private commissions such as the in-progress Aspen Art Museum and Manhattan's Metal Shutter House, 2014 Pritzker Prize-winning architect and humanitarian Shigeru Ban is best known for designing structures of a decidedly modest nature — simple, innovative buildings erected quickly and inexpensively; buildings that provide shelter to the vulnerable and the displaced; temporary yet resilient buildings; buildings made from cardboard tubes.

Said Tokyo-born Ban upon learning that he had won architecture’s most prestigious prize:

Receiving this prize is a great honor, and with it, I must be careful. I must continue to listen to the people I work for, in my private residential commissions and in my disaster relief work. I see this prize as encouragement for me to keep doing what I am doing — not to change what I am doing, but to grow.
Described by Pritzker Prize jury chairman Lord Peter Palumbo as a “force of nature,” 56-year-old Ban is a bona fide triple threat: a versatile, cutting-edge architect; a tireless humanitarian; and a somewhat reluctant environmentalist. “When I started working this way, almost 30 years ago, nobody was interested in talking about the environment. But this way of working came naturally to me. I was always interested in low-cost, local, reusable materials,” Ban said of the “sustainable” label frequently attached to his work.

And because he so often chooses to work in areas of the world ravaged by natural and manmade disasters instead of gravitating toward high-publicity and well-compensated commissions, Ban remains somewhat less of a household name than his fellow starchitects — names like Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Renzo Piano, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Ban noted that architects, his contemporaries included, are generally “too busy working for the privileged. Historically, it’s been the same. The privileged people have money and power, which are invisible, so they hire us to make their power and money visible through monumental architecture. The important thing for me is balance, working on normal buildings and also in disaster areas.”

The Pritzker jury citation sang Ban's praises:

Shigeru Ban is a tireless architect whose work exudes optimism. Where others may see insurmountable challenges, Ban sees a call to action. Where others might take a tested path, he sees the opportunity to innovate. He is a committed teacher who is not only a role model for younger generations, but also an inspiration.
In celebration of Ban’s achievement (he’ll officially be honored on June 13 at an awards ceremony held at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum), here’s a look at six exemplary finished works — some since disassembled — from the world’s foremost practitioner of “emergency architecture.”

Paper Log House
Photo: Shigeru Ban Architects

Paper Log House (Cebu, Philippines; 2014)

Since founding the Voluntary Architects’ Network, or VAN, in 1995, Ban has traversed the globe — Italy, India, China, New Orleans, Haiti, Sri Lanka and Turkey being just some of his stops — in response to earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and humanitarian crises. Most recently, he’s focused on rebuilding efforts in the Philippines after 2013’s catastrophic Typhoon Haiyan. His latest completed project, Paper Log House, is in the devastated island province of Cebu. It’s actually not Ban’s first Paper Log House but a redesign of similar low-cost, temporary dwellings built in Kobe, Japan, in 1995 and subsequently in India and Turkey, all in response to earthquakes. Noting that previous Paper Log House designs were “very complicated and time-consuming to build in high volumes,” Ban’s newest Paper Log House incorporates locally available materials: foundations made from sandbag-filled beer crates, coconut wood floor panels, bamboo walls, and thatched roofs made from nipa palms and plastic sheeting. To expedite and simplify the building process, Ban incorporated his patented paper partition system, first developed in 1995, as a means of erecting inexpensive and efficient temporary partitions at evacuation centers in Japan.

Cardboard Cathedral
Photo: Stephen Goodenough/Shigeru Ban Architects

Cardboard Cathedral (Christchurch, New Zealand; 2013)

Ban’s soaring, awe-inspiring house of worship incorporates nearly 200 sturdy cardboard tubes and a whole mess of recycled shipping containers, among other things. Built as a transitional replacement for an iconic, 131-year-old Anglican cathedral that was severely damaged during the deadly earthquake that rattled New Zealand’s second-largest city in 2011, Christchurch’s Cardboard Cathedral didn’t just pop up overnight. It persevered through a series of logistical delays, financial setbacks, local infighting and the scorn of a local wizard/architecture critic. The finished product, capable of accommodating up to 700 parishioners and curious tourists, was well worth the wait, however. It’s a thing of unconventional beauty. And, naturally, it’s totally up to earthquake code. “The strength of the building has nothing to do with the strength of the material. Even concrete buildings can be destroyed by earthquakes very easily. But paper buildings cannot be destroyed by earthquakes,” Ban explained.

Paper Concert Hall
Photo: Fabio Mantovani/Shigeru Ban Architects

Paper Concert Hall (L’Aquila, Italy; 2011)

A magnitude-6.7 earthquake that struck the medieval Italian city of L’Aquila in April 2009 caused hundreds of deaths, countless injuries and widespread damage to historical buildings. Thousands upon thousands of L’Aquila residents who emerged from the quake without bodily harm found their homes reduced to rubble. In the days after the catastrophe, in a city internationally renowned for its conservatories, symphonies and classical music venues, L’Aquila’s music came to a grinding halt. Erected as a gift to the devastated city by the Japanese government, Ban’s temporary Paper Concert Hall helped musical activities resume quickly. Simple in execution yet ingenious in design, this durable, easy-to-assemble (and disassemble) venue with seating for 230 was built with steel, glass, concrete, clay sacks and, of course, Ban’s signature reinforced paper columns.

Container temporary housing
Photo: Hiroyuki Hirai/Shigeru Ban Architects

Container temporary housing (Onagawa, Japan; 2011)

Recycled paper tubes were Ban's structural material of choice after he, along with VAN, descended on Kobe after 1995's deadly Great Hanshin Earthquake. When Ban returned to Japan after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, he also worked with his preferred medium, particularly in the creation of quick-to-assemble, privacy-providing evacuation center partitions. Never an architect to ignore unconventional but readily available materials, Ban switched things up a bit with a temporary housing block in the Miyagi prefecture built from retired shipping containers stacked three high and arranged in a checkerboard pattern. Although a departure from the norm for Ban in terms of disaster housing, he wasn't totally inexperienced in the ways of cargotecture. His design for the Nomadic Museum — Canadian artist Gregory Colbert's traveling photography and film installation that has made stops in New York City, Santa Monica, Tokyo and Mexico City — also used old shipping containers as structural building blocks.

Hualin Temporary Elementary School
Photo: Li Jun/Shigeru Ban Architects

Hualin Temporary Elementary School (Chengdu, China; 2008)

Like many of his temporary cardboard structures, including Kobe’s Paper Dome (1995), this temporary educational facility built in the wake of 2008’s incredibly devastating magnitude-8.0 Sichuan earthquake was largely the work of volunteers, in this case more than 100 Japanese and Chinese university students on summer vacation. Consisting of three structures with a total of nine classrooms, Ban’s elementary school was the first building in China to be constructed using cheap, recyclable, reusable and readily available paper tubes and the first educational facility erected in the Chengdu region after the earthquake. Earlier this year, many of the same volunteers who helped build the Hualin Temporary Elementary School reunited to construct the Ya’an City Paper Nursery School, a temporary replacement for a school rendered uninhabitable after another powerful earthquake struck the Sichuan province in April 2013.

Paper Bridge
Photo: Michel Gagne/AFP/Getty Images

Paper Bridge (Remoulin, France; 2007)

When it comes to working his architectural magic with paper tubes, Ban has proven to be nothing less than versatile. Although a majority of these structures are disaster shelters, pop-up retail environments, pavilions and civic and cultural buildings erected as temporary replacements in the wake of some of Mother Nature’s fiercest temper tantrums, Ban also has dabbled in paper bridges. Yes, bridges. Erected in the shadow of Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge spanning the Gardon River in southern France, this dizzying temporary work of infrastructure was built with 281 cardboard tubes, recycled paper steps and a foundation of wooden boxes filled with sand. And yes, you (and 19 other people at the same time) could totally walk across it. Said Ban of the remarkably sturdy design, which was on display for six weeks before being disassembled: “It is a very interesting contrast, the Roman stone bridge and the paper bridge. Paper, too, can be permanent, can be strong and lasting. We need to get rid of these prejudices.”

Shigeru Ban's complete works include numerous projects that are not humanitarian or cardboard based.

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Meet Shigeru Ban, architect for the people
This year's Pritzker Prize winner, Shigeru Ban, brings sustainable, innovative architecture to disaster zones in the form of resilient paper-based structures.