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shigeru ban: 3 dimensional poetry    If we begin our article by saying that Shigeru Ban, winner of the latest Pritzker Architecture Prize, creates 3-dimensional poetry, some may be inclined to say we are being over-pretentious. But they will not be able to say it is untrue. Indeed, Shigeru Ban’s architecture goes beyond the aesthetics of beauty. Sustainability, durability and the social worth of architecture are the key underlying pins to his work. On finishing his studies in Tokyo and California, Shigeru Ban enrolled in the Cooper Union´s School of Architecture where he met the most experimental member of the New York Five, Professor John Hedjuk. “Grand-master” Hedjuk’s teachings have had a vital influence on Ban’s career. Ban has merged his Japanese roots with what he has learned from western architecture. Taking the “shoji” concept (extended level floors) from traditional Japanese architecture as well as Hedjuk’s rationalistic perspective, he has carried out an extensive study of the structures of architectural systems. From the beginning of his career he has blended invisible structures with architecture’s social obligations; these elements have become symbolic of his work. Architecture is worth nothing by itself, it needs to mean something; it must either answer a question or a need.

Both nature and sustainability are essential elements of this Japanese architect’s work as well. In fact, it is the work that Shigeru Ban has developed in the spaces where nature violently interrupts our comfortable lifestyle and the solutions he has provided that have made his name for him. The Japanese architect has made symbols of shelters. Shelters are fleeting architectural structures that do not seek permanence. They are buildings that fulfil a definite purpose in a distinct moment in time. In addition, he uses cheap, readily available recyclable materials. Principally paper and cardboard tubes that on many occasions are leftover industrial waste (cardboard rolls tubes from rolls of fabric are an example.) These shelters are easy to build by anybody, anywhere. These shelters built with paper and cardboard rolls have been used in disaster areas all over the world: the Kobe earthquake in 1994, the Ruanda genocide the same year, the 1999 earthquake in Turkey, in Ahmadabad, India...

As well as being innovative and beautiful, Shigeru Ban’s work is also economically, socially and ecologically ethical. On many occasions his work has been classified as ephemeral architecture, but if you really think about it, there is nothing at all fleeting about his buildings. It’s true that once they have fulfilled their purpose the structures and material are recycled and the buildings disappear (all buildings disappear sooner or later), but Shigeru Ban’s shelters live on in the memory of those who built and used them. Ban’s shelters, modified and further-developed, appear time and time again ready for those who need to use them. Just like poetry.