Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who makes waves with his cardboard-based humanitarian projects (rain-resistant huts, disaster-relief prefabs, a paper cathedral for an earthquake-ravaged community) and the commercial projects that pay for them, was profiled in the August 11 issue of the New Yorker, which came out around the opening of his Aspen art museum. In "Paper Palaces: The architect of the dispossessed meets the one per cent," New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear lays out the ironies inherent to being an architect whose designs you can own "only if you are recently homeless or exceedingly wealthy." There's also a great many little-known facts about Ban himself. Along those lines, here are twelve things you may not have known about Shigeru Ban:
12. Despite his reputation for sustainable, thrifty building, Ban tells Goodyear he is "not reflecting on it." Also, he claims to "not know the meaning of 'Green Architect.' I have no interest in 'Green,' 'Eco,' and 'Environmentally Friendly.' I just hate wasting things." In other words, "I'm not the architect to make a shape. My designs are always problem solving."
11. Through all of his modesty, Ban apparently "takes pleasure in distinguishing himself from his peers, and in pointing up their excesses... '[The Vitra campus] has the most expensive collection of architecture,' he says. 'My tents became their cheapest collection.'"
10. Ban used to play rugby. He squad number was 8.
9. Up close, Ban has "pillowy lips and lids, and a barrel-shaped body perpetually swathed in softly pleated black linen... He looks clicked together, like a Lego figurine." His mother, a dressmaker with a small workshop on the second floor of his Tokyo studio, designs all his clothes. His wife, who he rarely sees, makes women's pocketbooks and accessories inspired by industrial materials.
8. Noted architecture critic Kenneth Frampton professes that he doesn't know exactly what to do with Ban. "Underlying his work is an idea of a minimalism based on the notion of energy and ecological sustainability. He's connected to the Japanese tradition, but also very influenced by America and a Yankee-tinker attitude, which was Buckminster Fuller's approach. It's a value-free technical performance, detached from anything you could call a critical cultural position."
7. The seemingly unflappable Ban nonetheless had to "interrupt his Pritzker acceptance speech, flustered, he said, because 'Rem is looking at me.'"
6. Prominent New York architect Tod Williams, who taught Ban at Cooper Union and "likes him," says Ban's designs are "barely architecture. There's no real depth to the work, and that's why it's a good, clear message." Williams also says "he seemed shockingly clear, almost naïve, in the kinds of work that he brought to the studio. It was almost embarrassingly direct."
5. At airports, where "Ban is quick," a comfortable range at which to follow him "is one where you can see the small bald spot on the top of his head and know that you could reach him at a sprint." He is also "a hard man to buy a sandwich for. If you succeed, you must ask him questions while he chews. (Is it a conversation if one of you is also writing e-mails on his iPad?)"
4. Despite describing walking through his Aspen art museum as an experience akin to skiing down a mountain, "he doesn't ski, and, in the course of seven years of work on the museum, with trips roughly every other month during the construction phase, he had yet to ride the gondola to the top of the mountain." Also, Ban takes special care to point out that "compared with the Aspen museum, Ban said, 'many of the houses around here cost more.'"
3. According to Ban, viewing his Centre Pompidou extension (which has been likened to a Smurf hat, a mushroom, and a "remote-controlled attack stingray") as his single attempt at sculptural architecture is a mistake. "It looks like an organic shape, but the timber roof has very strict geometrical and structural rules," he says. "I'm not criticizing, but the form-making of Frank Gehry at Bilbao is more instinctual, and it requires very complicated technology to make a drawing out of his form. My form has rules behind it. Even if it looks like the same kind of organic shape, there's a process of making underneath."
2. When asked if Ban had multiple designs for the Aspen museum, Ban said, "No... I only do one design... If I do three, obviously one is going to be the best. You're only going to want the best, so I'm only going to show you one."
1. To Ban's displeasure, architect Peter Eisenman came up with a nickname for him at Cooper Union: Sugar Bear.
· Paper Places: The Architect of the Dispossessed Meets the One Per Cent [The New Yorker]
· How Cardboard King Shigeru Ban Designs an Art Museum [Curbed National]