Shigeru Ban's architecture reflects the life and ideas of a man regarded as one of the architectural super-stars. CHRISTOPHER MOORE looks at the individual and his buildings, including Christchurch's temporary Anglican cathedral.
It's sometimes difficult to equate Shigeru Ban's status as an architectural rock star with a quietly spoken, self-effacing man who, in his own words, loathes waste.
But Ban is a man who seems to revel in contradictions. A physically small, compact figure, he doesn't like wearing ties, dresses austerely and as a child wanted to become a carpenter.
Ban explains his philosophies with the verbal economy of a Zen master. While other architects use steel and concrete, he has become immersed in different approaches and techniques. For a decade he has pioneered the use of strengthened paper and cardboard in buildings which continue to re-shape our perceptions of contemporary architecture.
This week it was confirmed that Christchurch will be the site for the latest work by one of the world's leading ecological architects.
Ban's design for the city's temporary Anglican Cathedral could become reality by the end of the year when a soaring tent-like structure constructed from a series of paper tubes weighing just under 500kg and placed on a foundation of shipping containers will rise on the site of the demolished St John's Church in Latimer Square.
The temporary cathedral carries varied cultural threads in its architectural luggage. It will be approximately the same height as the former Christchurch Cathedral bell tower.
Consciously or unconsciously, Ban has designed a building with echoes of a Maori wharenui or meeting house. As with many of his buildings, its sparsely elegant qualities carry a distinctive Japanese sensibility.
It won't be the first Christian space he has constructed. In the Japanese city of Kobe, Ban designed a community centre to replace a church destroyed in the 1995 earthquake. Materials were donated by a number of companies, and construction was completed in only five weeks by 160 volunteers. The 10m by 15m building is enclosed within a skin of corrugated, polycarbonate sheeting. Within this, 58 paper tubes (325mm in diameter, 14.8mm thick, and 5m high), were placed in an elliptical pattern. The ellipse, based on the 17th century Italian artist Gian Bernini's church designs, formed a corridor and provides lateral support. At the entrance, the spacing of the paper tubes widens, and the facade is fully glazed to form a continuous, unified space between the interior and exterior.
Kobe's paper church was disassembled in 2005 and later rebuilt in Taiwan.
Ban perfected this technique in other buildings ranging from the small - an intimate library designed in 1991 as an annexe to a house in Kanagawa, Japan - to the large, including the Japanese pavilion at the 2000 Hanover Expo.
Born in Tokyo in 1957, Shigeru Ban studied at the Southern California Institute of Architecture and later went on to Cooper Unions School of Architecture where he studied under the New York architect John Hejduk and graduated in 1984. From Hejduk, Ban absorbed both the essential elements of architecture and the qualities of poetry reflected in any building.
Ban's career saw him being hailed by Time magazine as a 21st century innovator in the field of architecture and design.
Today, he leads a global architectural practice.
"I think that my work has been continually changing since the beginning," he said in an interview.
"I'm interested in designing anything from a chair to a museum, a refugee house to an airport - anything. I don't have any particular person I want to work with. I do not choose anyone. I have projects which come to me. I would like to design everything inside a building but usually we architects do not receive enough of these projects to be able to do so."
For Ban, one of the most important themes in his work is the invisible structure.
"He doesn't overtly express his structural elements, but rather chooses to incorporate it into the design. Ban is not interested in the newest materials and techniques, but rather the expression of the concept behind his building. The materials he chooses to use are deliberately chosen for how they aid the building to do so," one commentator wrote recently.
Ban draws on the styles and techniques of traditional Japanese architecture including the sense of continuity between all rooms in a house. In his buildings, floors do not change their elevation as the interior and exterior worlds are fused in buildings where East and West do meet harmoniously.
There have been other influences in his work - Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto and, naturally, his old mentor John Hejduk.
Asked once what advice he could offer young architects, he suggested that travel was the best teacher.
"Then you can understand different cultures of the world and you don't have to depend on the computer."
- Shigeru Ban will give his first public talk in New Zealand in Christchurch on Sunday (7.30pm, DL Lecture Theatre, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology) when he will discuss his work, including natural disaster relief projects and his design for the temporary ChristChurch Cathedral. The event is presented by the Christchurch Art Gallery and the ChristChurch Cathedral.
- Material in this feature was drawn from various sources including Designboom and Shigeru Ban Architects' website.
- The Press