Japanese architect Shigeru Ban’s first museum in the United States opened last month in Aspen, Colorado. An internationally renowned architect and the recipient of the 2014 Pritzker Prize, which is often referred to as architecture’s Nobel Prize, Ban is distinguished from his peers by his commitment to humanitarian work and sustainability.
Since 1994, Ban and a team of volunteers have responded to a number of disasters worldwide with innovative architectural solutions. They constructed relief housing in response to the 1999 earthquake in Turkey, to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Ban uses inexpensive, often recycled materials to construct innovative shelters in an economically and environmentally sustainable way. These structures dispel preconceived notions of the aesthetics of disaster relief shelters with their simple, clean designs.
In Onagawa, Japan, Ban converted old shipping containers into housing for people who lost their homes in the 2011 disaster. The earthquake and flooding left little flat land, which Ban addressed by stacking the shipping containers to make three level multi-family units. One of Ban’s earliest projects was in response to the 1994 civil war in Rwanda that left millions homeless. Ban worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to develop refugee shelters, using low-cost paper tubes as an alternative to wood in an area that had suffered rapid deforestation.
Minimalism in a Time of Excess
What makes Ban’s work particularly interesting from an energy standpoint is his dedication to using locally and sustainably sourced materials. The new Aspen Art Museum is constructed from materials ranging from paper tubes to beer crates, and all the wood involved in the project was sustainably sourced. Fellow architects have called Ban a “socially responsible” or “socially conscious” architect who prizes sustainability above all. But despite Ban’s focus on reusing materials and minimizing waste, he rejects labels such as green and eco-friendly.
Although Ban is the best-known philanthropic architect, lesser-known builders and organizations are working in a similar capacity, creating a small but growing movement. For example, the U.K. charity Architecture Sans Frontières, emulating the model pioneered by Doctors without Borders, is spreading sustainable architecture and responsibly built environments to marginalized or impoverished communities around the world. In the United States, the organization Make it Right, created after Hurricane Katrina, enlists architects who donate their time to create cradle to cradle homes that produce more energy than they consume. Natural disasters, political turmoil, and war will continue to displace people from their homes, and the innovative architectural designs by Ban and others can help keep them from crowded and unsanitary refugee camps.
Tags: Building Systems, Energy Efficiency, Industrial Innovations, Smart Buildings Program
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