Shigeru Ban | Inventiveness and Engagement

I first encountered the architecture of Shigeru Ban with his Curtain Wall house, which completely rearranged my thinking of the façade as a protective screen. In researching about this unique architect, I have found even more interesting works of his which I´d like to share with you in this article.

As Pritzker-Price laureate of 2014, Shigeru Ban was honored for his development of disaster relief projects as well as for his paper constructions. From extravagant roof structures and complex timber constructions to temporary paper churches intended as a refuge for those in need, Shigeru Ban pushes the boundaries of elegance and affordability. Having associates in Tokyo, Paris and New York, Shigeru Ban at the same time helps those in need through his NGO called “Voluntary Architects Network”, working in disaster areas.

What works did Shigeru Ban build?

This is a brief overview over some of his most famous works.

Paper Church in Kobe-shi | 1995

As a low cost, easy to assemble structure, the church was intended to be a temporary structure to provide a place of worship for the victims of the earthquake. The structure is made from 58 paper tubes, assembled in an oval shape and arranged irregularly, so as to make the tubes appear more dense as a backdrop for the altar, and more spaced on the side of the entrance to create a greater continuity between interior and exterior. The 33 cm thick columns support a tent-like roof made from Teflon-coated fabric.

Curtain wall house, tokyo| 1995

This house was built to reflect the owner´s lifestyle. It opens to the outdoors with wide deck spaces towards the east and south sides. Curtains span across the façade between the second and third floors. In winter, the glazed doors, in combination with the curtain, can be closed completely to insure proper insulation and privacy. The design reinterprets many elements of traditional Japanese architecture, like Shoji, Sudare screens, and Fusuma doors, and puts them into the contemporary context.

Prefectural Art Museum, Oita Shi | 2015

The closed boxes concept of many museums is outdated. Shigeru Ban believes places of culture must be attractive, even for people just passing by. The street-side façade is composed of operable glass doors which can open to connect the atrium to the street, creating a public space and allowing visitors to enter the structure freely. With the cultural center just across the street, a collaboration of the two cultural facilities can take place there, too.

The Design Philosophy of Shigeru Ban

As his main inspiration, Shigeru Ban mentions his fascination with traveling. Understanding different cultures of the world is really important to him. In his architectural practice, Ban emphasizes the importance of the roof as the most important element of architecture. This superposition of the roof is particularly evident in his design for the cardboard cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, as well as the Centre Pompidou in Metz, France.

Regarding the use of computer technology, renderings and 3D visualizations, ban believes these techniques don´t help young architects in improving their work. What Ban recommends is building physical models which are an important stage in every design process to understanding the work and how good the project is.

Shigeru Ban´s highest respect goes to Mies van der Rohe, Frei Otto, Emilio Ambasz, his professor John Hejduk from Cooper Union School and many others, but especially to Alvar Aalto. Ban loves designing and curating every little detail inside the house like him.

Shigeru Ban´s use of materials

Ban is renowned for his inventive use of paper columns, industrially produced, versatile and strong enough to create the structure that supports his buildings. Since his first experimentations with paper structures in 1986, Shigeru Ban has built several works including paper, although it doesn´t make an appearance in every one of his works. He doesn´t invent the materials he uses from scratch but uses existing materials in a new way. While in traditional Japanese architecture, paper is only used as a screen, Ban uses the material to fulfill structural needs of his buildings.

Ban is also famous for his masterly use of wood trying to use wood whenever possible. Particularly his fascination with the traditional wicker Chinese hat has led him to develop a weaving system of timber, allowing him to span spaces of large distances with ease, thereby creating a signature aesthetic.

Ban´s engagement to build emergency structures

Shigeru Ban feels responsible for improving the situation of those in need. He wants to help people who lost their houses to earthquakes. Most of his charity-projects are built with laymen, volunteers, and students. In designing the buildings for those projects, he makes the elements in a way so that the individual parts are easy to carry, and details are simple enough to understand. Most of his projects use locally sourced materials, such as wood, brick, bamboo and paper.


Shigeru Ban does a great service to humanity in adressing humanitarian needs in such a rigorous fashion. Rewarding them with the Pritzker-Price in 2014 can be seen as a wakeup call for colleagues to concentrate on the large challenges we as a society face. If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn about this years 2021 Pritzker-Prize laureate, consider reading this article about Alejandro Aravena on my website.

Thanks for reading

~ Julian

Sources used to provide this overview: [accessed May 15th, 2021]

Share This Post

Post Navigation

related Posts