Shigeru Ban

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By WALNICE NOGUEIRA GALVÃO*

An architect who prioritizes the social responsibility of architecture

These days Shigeru Ban received a new distinction: the Concordia Award, conferred by the Princess of Asturias Foundation, in Spain. The name of the prize proved especially apt in this case. In its reasoning, the Foundation emphasizes solidary work in urgent cases, as well as the revaluation arising from the use of the humblest materials, remains and leftovers of the consumer society, whose corollary is waste.

Shigero Ban belied the tendency of architects to dedicate themselves to building grandiose monuments paid for by the government or mansions for millionaires. He devotes himself to providing humanitarian aid when cataclysms and catastrophes occur.

Award-winning, he had already received the highest award in world architecture, the Pritzker, in 2014. Just to give you an idea: among Brazilians, only Oscar Niemeyer and Paulo Mendes da Rocha did justice to the laurel. This time, more than one person or a single work, as is his custom, the Pritzker diverged from the usual, distinguishing a new conception of what architecture should be, postulating the social responsibility of the architect.

As Shigeru Ban became known, he began to receive important orders, which made his style visible worldwide. Especially many museums, always with the same materials: among others, the Oita Museum in Japan, the Aspen Museum of Art in the United States, the Center Pompidou Metz in France, whose roof evokes the undulations of a giant stingray. Or the Mount Fuji Museum, in the shape of an inverted cone, which, resting on the apex, mirrors the mountain itself – since the institution is conceived as a tribute and a lookout point for the contemplation of this icon of Japan.

Someone would say, but how are you going to build monumental works, if you only make tents and temporary accommodation? But that's where you're wrong, when you see in these buildings the free spans with very high ceilings, as well as the curved walls that never end. And the famous cardboard tubes are not hidden, on the contrary they are used to support the ceiling, but also to sketch beautiful intertwined designs in the air.

This great user of garbage, rubbish and scrap metal invented a house with walls made of cardboard tubes, the kind that come inside paper towel rolls, with beer crates as foundations, anchored with sand and stones. They are improvised housing, tents and huts for those who need it most. The architect moves around the planet in pursuit of that purpose, which is the rescue and shelter of the victims.

By promoting these materials, Shigeru Ban became a champion of sustainability and ecology, a friend of reuse and recycling. He founded an NGO of solidary architects to help populations affected by disaster zones. For these missions he summons his students at the University of Tokyo, Harvard and Cornell: but not only students, also colleagues and anyone of good will.

Among his feats are the recovery of Rwanda, after the Hutus slaughtered 800.000 Tutsis, causing the exodus of those who fled into the mountains and forests, seeking to escape the hecatomb. He helped the victims of radiation in Fukushima, as well as earthquakes in Setsuan in China, in Kobe in Japan, in Aquila in Italy, in Indian Gujarat and in Turkey. He has no political or ideological prejudice, the people needed him to come forward to help. This is how we saw it when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and unattended chaos prevailed: it had already taken the same initiative in the Indian Ocean tsunami. And in other disaster relief works in Haiti, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

When he was in Brazil in RIVER + (Rio de Janeiro, 2013), proposed in a lecture that seized wood, illegally deforested in the Amazon, be used for the construction of popular houses that would benefit the poor. Was it heard?

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reading and rereading (Sesc\Ouro over Blue).

 

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