Renowned architect and humanitarian Shigeru Ban has been awarded the industry’s top honour, the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Renowned architect and humanitarian Shigeru Ban has been awarded the industry’s top honour, the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Tom Pritzker, chairman and president of The Hyatt Foundation, announced the winner, making the Tokyo-born Ban the third Japanese architect in five years to be awarded the Pritzker Prize after Toyo Ito in 2013 and Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa in 2010.

 The 56-year-old Ban runs offices in Tokyo, Paris and New York and is best known for  his cardboard tube shelter architecture and his efficient use of some of the world's most common materials in delivering innovative yet resourceful design.

Ban has spent the past 20 years travelling to the sites of natural and man-made disasters around the world to work with local citizens, volunteers and students in a bid to design and construct simple, dignified, low-cost, recyclable shelters and community buildings for the disaster victims.

His architecture is often  referred to as sustainable, a choice that Ban said is innate.

“When I started working this way, almost 30 years ago, nobody was talking about the environment. But this way of working came naturally to me. I was always interested in low cost, local, reusable materials,” he said in a statement.

Reached at his Paris office, Shigeru Ban said he sees the win as a validation of his work.

“Receiving this prize is a great honour, and with it, I must be careful," he said. "I must continue to listen to the people I work for, in my private residential commissions and in my disaster relief work. I see this prize as encouragement for me to keep doing what I am doing – not to change what I am doing, but to grow.”

One of Ban’s most celebrated projects is his 1994 paper tube structure the “Paper Log House” in Kobe, Japan. When Ban discovered that two million refugees from the 1994 Rwandan Civil War were living in terrible conditions, he took his paper structure proposal to the United Nations and was hired as a consultant to help with disaster relief.

Paper Log House, Kobe Japan

Paper Log House, Kobe Japan

He built temporary housing there from donated beer crates loaded with sandbags, and the walls were created from 106 millimetre by four millimetre paper tubes. Tenting material was used for the roof. For insulation, Ban used a waterproof sponge tape backed with adhesive in between the paper tubes of the walls. The cost of materials for one 52 square metre unit was below $2000 with each unit easy to dismantle and recycle.

This project formed the basis for a host of other relief efforts in Japan, India, Italy and New Zealand.

In February 2011, Ban responded following the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand by building a Cardboard Cathedral to replace the city's 19th-century cathedral, which was severely damaged during the disaster. Paper tubes and 20-foot containers helped create the triangular structure, which can house up to 600 people.

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch, 2013

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch, 2013

“Shigeru Ban is a force of nature, which is entirely appropriate in the light of his voluntary work for the homeless and dispossessed in areas that have been devastated by natural disasters," said Pritzker Prize jury chairman Lord Peter Palumbo. "But he also ticks the several boxes for qualification to the Architectural Pantheon – a profound knowledge of his subject with a particular emphasis on cutting-edge materials and technology; total curiosity and commitment; endless innovation; an infallible eye; an acute sensibility – to name but a few.”

While Ban's humanitarian efforts are highly recognised, his work also extends to office spaces, exhibition pavilions and temporary housing, using unusual materials and challenging conventional structure systems.

Exhibition Work: Centre Pompidou-Metz, France, 2010

Exhibition Work: Centre Pompidou-Metz, France, 2010

In addition to his architecture work, Ban also volunteers for disaster relief, lectures and teaches.

This year’s Pritzker Prize ceremony will take place on June 13, 2014 at the recently renovated Rijksmuseum museum in Amsterdam.

  • A just reward for someone who obviously works tirelessly to use his skill and expertise in a way that makes a difference to those in need.

    His efforts and his humility are an inspiration to us all.