Pritzker laureate Shigeru Ban believes it's an architect's social responsibility to not only make wonderful monuments for the rich, but also something beautiful for the less fortunate
For all his accolades — including the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize — and contribution to the field of architecture, particularly eco-friendly architecture and humanitarian works, Shigeru Ban can be given a free pass to indulge in a bit of self-glorification. But when the Japanese architect was in Hong Kong for the Business of Design Week (BODW) last December, he showed that he is very much the antithesis of a stereotypical 'starchitect'.
Mobbed by reporters before his lecture, Ban was bombarded with questions about his work on sustainable architecture and his innovative use of materials; but he was quick to downplay the media frenzy. Questioned about his use of "special paper" and why authorities and clients trust him to try "new materials", the architect clarified that he uses normal recycled paper: "[I am] not using new materials, but just using existing materials differently, and trying to look for different meanings and functions from existing materials," he said.
Ban stressed that any 'unusual ' materials he uses must be strictly tested for approval for use by the government in accordance with local regulations — even plastic and grass can be used for structural material as long as they are tested, he noted. In fact, his preference for recycled material dates back to 1986, because, he said, he "just wanted to use inexpensive, humble materials" and avoid waste.
As an architect, Ban is known for many things — his use of recycled materials; his innovative, elegant work; and perhaps most of all for his extensive humanitarian efforts. And while it would be good PR for him to speak at length about his altruism, the Pritzker laureate is instead honest and unpretentious in sharing his thoughts on the balance between commercial and humanitarian projects. "I spend the same kind of energy and time regardless if it is commissioned work, or disaster relief work," he said. "I get the same satisfaction building for the rich and the poor."
Ban believes that all architects share a common social responsibility. "Generally speaking, as architects, we are working for privileged people who have money and power. Because money and power are invisible, the privileged hire us to visualise their power and money with monumental architecture — this has historically been the responsibility of architects," he said.
This is a preview of the "Architecture with a conscience” article from the April 2015 issue of Perspective magazine.
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