Pritzker Laureate Shigeru Ban Featured

Published in Living Legends  
Pritzker Laureate Shigeru Ban Photographs by Didier Boy de la Tour

Pritzker Laureate Shigeru Ban

Creating Architecture for Humanity

Shigeru Ban is a Japanese architect who graduated from Cooper Union in 1984. As a child, he demonstrated a strong interest in architectural poetics, which influenced all of his later works. He designed a number of iconic buildings, including the Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the Aspen Art Museum in the U.S. He is well known for his work in paper and cardboard architecture. He also assists many humanitarian relief efforts across the globe. In 2022, the Voluntary Architects’ Network (VAN) and Shigeru Ban Architects provided the Paper Partition System (PPS) for shelters for the increasing number of refugees staying in the neighboring countries of Ukraine. These shelters are simple partition systems to ensure privacy for inhabitants, and they have been used in numerous evacuation centers in Japanese regions hit by disasters, such as the Great East Japan Earthquake (2011), the Kumamoto Earthquake (2016), the Hokkaido Earthquake (2018), and the torrential rains in southern Kyushu (2020). In 2014, he received the Pritzker Architecture Prize for his work. Tokyo Journal Editor-in-Chief Anthony Al-Jamie spoke with Shigeru Ban about his achievements, work, and advice for aspiring architects.

TJ: How did it feel to receive the Pritzker Award?
I spent three years on a jury for Pritzker, so I know how important the award is and the criteria to earn it, which is why I was not expecting to receive this award. I was chosen due to changes in the criteria. Additionally, I’m the fi rst one who received the award because of my social projects, which are currently being used in disaster areas. Humanitarian activities are a very important aspect of my career, and this award encouraged me to continue the work that I have already done.

TJ: How did you learn to be an architect?
I was about 14 years old when I realized I wanted to be an architect. At the time, I didn’t know how active of a profession it was. All I knew was that I wanted to go to art school in Japan to study architecture. After high school, I went to a prep school called Ochanomizu Art School, which prepares students for its own examination. It’s not necessarily about studying, but rather drawing and making models, which I was very good at. At my teacher’s apartment, I saw an architecture magazine called a+u, which featured American architects such as John Hedjuk and Peter Eisenman, who later became my professor at Cooper Union. After learning about this school through this magazine, I wanted to go to the United States. When I first sent the application form from Tokyo, I didn’t receive an answer. I learned later that they accept students who aren’t from rich families. I also found out that they accept foreign exchange students. I ended up spending a few years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles in order to transfer to Cooper Union.

TJ: What is your favorite part of being an architect?
I wanted to be a carpenter when I was younger. I really love making things, especially out of wood. As an architect, I can make things out of natural materials. I also enjoy being able to travel a lot.


The complete article can be found in Issue #281 of the Tokyo Journal.

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.

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