Reactor

Method Man? Notes on Shigeru Ban’s Pritzker Prize

by Ryan J. Simons on March 24, 2014

Shigeru Ban, ‘Paper Log House Kobe’ (photo by Takanobu Sakuma; all images courtesy Shigeru Ban)

Earlier today, the Pritzker Foundation named Shigeru Ban as its 2014 Laureate. Focusing on his work in disaster relief, the nine-person jury praised his interventions in places such as Rwanda, Haiti, India, China, Italy, and his home country of Japan — Ban is the third Japanese architect in the past five years to win the award.

In its official Jury Citation, the committee wrote:

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Shigeru Ban (photo by Shigeru Ban Architects)

Shigeru Ban is a tireless architect whose work exudes optimism. Where others may see insurmountable challenges, Ban sees a call to action. Where others might take a tested path, he sees the opportunity to innovate. He is a committed teacher who is not only a role model for younger generations, but also an inspiration.

Ban studied at SCI-Arc and the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at Cooper Union. His use of paper has extended from one end of the spectrum, the theoretical, to the other: real world uses in the aftermath of natural disasters. Ban has offices in Paris, New York, and Tokyo. His influences — John Hejduk, whom he studied under at Cooper Union, Frei Otto, Buckminster Fuller, and Oscar Niemeyer — are clearly visible in his work.

With the focus on Ban’s innovative use of materials, praise suggesting an evolution of methodology might be a stretch in this case. Ban’s non-relief work tends to suffer from a lack of detailing or material innovation, often hidden under the guise of “poetic modernism.” There is little room for actual subversion in architecture — the process of building can be exorbitantly slow and prone to balancing multiple exterior forces in order to convey its intent. Awarding Ban for his expedient humanitarian efforts creates a sense of architecture being a deployable action in order to alleviate demand in the face of catastrophe while glossing over his deploying the same tactics in projects like Camper’s flagship shoe store on Prince Street in Manhattan.

In recent years, the Pritzker has come under scrutiny for a lack of diversity and its exclusion of female laureates — in its 35-year history, only two women have received the prize (Zaha Hadid in 2004 and Kazuyo Sejima in 2010). Awarding the prize to Ban seems to alleviate some of the criticism that the prize is nothing more than another pat on the back for architects operating for the 1% (the award is sponsored by the Hyatt family). There will surely be a backlash to the noticeably reactionary stance taken by the jury. Last week, in a highly visible Facebook rant, architectural theorist Patrik Schumacher denounced the role of “political correctness” and “misguided social justice” in recent architectural discourse. We can only imagine his vitriolic response to today’s news.

The awarding of the Pritzker to Ban furthers the cleaving of the capital ‘A’ architects and the humanitarian sector. With today’s awarding of the profession’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize and Rem Koolhaas’s severing ties with contemporary practice and focusing on the fundamentals of architecture for this year’s Venice Biennale, 2014 is quickly becoming a momentous year for a profession in dire need of one.

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Shigeru Ban, ‘Paper Log House India’ (Photo by Kartikeya Shodhan)

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Shigeru Ban, ‘Naked House’ (Photo by Hiroyuki Hirai)

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Shigeru Ban, ‘Metal Shutter House’ (Photo by Hiroyuki Hirai)

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