But not to worry as the 2014 Pritzker Laureate hasn’t completely abandoned his signature building material, which has been used to erect pop-up pavilions, schools, community centers, houses, cathedrals, concert halls and even bridges. Ban, certainly no one-trick pony, is simply exploring the use of another simple, reusable and readily available material to complement his trademark paper tube-based designs.
And in Nepal, a nation still digging out from a devastating tremor that struck in April, bricks salvaged from crumbled and collapsed buildings just happen to be in abundant supply. The celebrated — yet oh-so-humble — architect, humanitarian and waste-shunning environmentalist is simply harnessing a tangible and salvageable remainder from a catastrophe that all but leveled a tiny nation with a huge number of architectural treasures. He’s turning sorrow into shelter, ruin into refuge, heartache into housing.
It was first announced in May that Ban, through his design-centric relief organization Voluntary Architects Network (VAN), would be working alongside Nepalese architects and university students to design and build inexpensive yet durable transitional housing for those left homeless by April’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed upwards of 8,000 people.
The initial news that Ban, a graduate of Cooper Union in New York City, planned to descend on Nepal wasn't in the least surprising considering that he’s made his mark in numerous locales across the globe rocked by both war and natural disasters: Rwanda, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Turkey, New Zealand, the Philippines, Italy China and his native Japan. While certainly not a radical departure, the use of brick for Ban is, as mentioned, new.
Ban's eponymous Tokyo-based firm explains the simple concept behind the design:
This system can be assembled by connecting modular wooden frames (3ft x 7ft or 90cm x 210cm) and infilling with rubble bricks. This simple construction method enables anyone to assemble the wooden frames very quickly and if a roof (a truss made of local paper tubes) is secured on top, and the wooden structure covered with a plastic sheet, people can immediately begin to inhabit the shelters. Afterwards, people can stack the rubble bricks inside the wooden frames and slowly complete the construction themselves. The first prototype is to be constructed by end of August.
The rubble-, wood- and paper tube-based shelters are actually just the second step in Ban’s three-stage relief plan for Nepal. In the days immediately following the earthquake, VAN mobilized to distribute makeshift tent shelters/medical stations made from donated supplies such as plastic sheeting. After the just-announced brick-reclaiming transitional housing stage wraps up, Ban is expected to announce the third and final stage: permanent housing.
In addition to his work in Nepal, Ban has also been in the news as of late for a drastically different endeavor: a mixed-used development near Tower Bridge in London to be built using cross-laminated timber (and likely a few cardboard tubes here and there). Although details on the commission, which would include luxury housing and commercial space, are scant at this point, the project is slated to be Ban’s first-ever project in the United Kingdom.
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