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Pritzker Prize-Winning Architect Builds Innovative, Beautiful Disaster Relief Structures Across the Globe

Architect Shigeru Ban won the 2014 Pritzker Prize– called the Nobel of architecture– for his unique use of local and reusable materials.


A glowing cathedral sits in Christchurch, New Zealand. Brightly colored windows bedeck its minimalist, triangular shape, and natural light flows into its white interior, giving it a transcendental atmosphere. Yet, what makes the church stand out goes beyond its design.


Architect Shigeru Ban constructed it as a temporary structure – using cardboard tubes as a low-cost building material – to replace a beloved, 132-year-old cathedral that collapsed during a devastating earthquake in 2011.


Shigeru Ban recently received the prestigious Pritzker Prize, often called the Nobel Prize of architecture, recognizing his innovative use of materials in both high-end projects and humanitarian work around the world.


In the 1980s, Ban started experimenting with cardboard tubes as a building material, and found the tubes were strong, and could be waterproofed and fireproofed. He has used the tubes in high profile projects, such as the Centre Pompidou-Metz modern art museum in France.


However, Ban wanted his work to have a broader impact. In a TEDx Talk, Ban said he had an issue with how architects work for powerful and rich clients, rather than society. Seeing people die in earthquakes because of poorly designed buildings motivated Ban to become involved in disaster areas. He said these building failures are the responsibility of architects.


“Then people need some temporary housing, but there are no architects working there, because we are too busy working for privileged people,” Ban said in the TEDx Talk. “So, I thought even us as an architect, we can be involved in the pre-construction of the temporary housing. We can make it better.”



Ban’s projects include temporary shelters for Rwandan refugees, Japanese earthquake survivors and Sri Lankan villagers displaced by a tsunami. He also built a temporary church after an earthquake in Japan, and a temporary school after an earthquake in China.

The buildings use unique materials that remain cheap after disasters, when the price of traditional construction products often rises, and that are available locally. The materials also reduce construction costs – no heavy machinery is needed to lift cardboard tubes – and can be easily disassembled for recycling or reuse. Along with cardboard tubes, his structures have employed beer crates, shipping containers, rubble from fallen buildings and bamboo.


Along with being heralded for their sustainability, the projects are praised for keeping the needs of communities in mind. The beautiful structures give people “some sense of dignity amid all the chaos that is surrounding them,” said Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne to National Public Radio.


The Pritzker committee sees Ban as an inspiration to the field – furthering the award’s goal of recognizing architects who use the profession to make significant contributions to humanity and the built environment.


“Through excellent design, in response to pressing challenges, Shigeru Ban has expanded the role of the profession,” stated the jury who awarded him the prize. “He has made a place at the table for architects to participate in the dialogue with governments and public agencies, philanthropists, and the affected communities.”


What You Can Do:

  • Follow Ban’s charity, Voluntary Architect’s Network, on Facebook
  • Read more about Ban’s work
  • Donate to Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit that networks with architects to “bring design, construction and development services where they are most critically needed”