Published in: October 2010 Features > Paper Dreams (Page 2 / 4)

The Centre Pompidou-Metz resembles the mesh of a traditional Chinese bamboo hat


Born in 1957 in Tokyo, Ban studied at the Southern California Institute of Architecture and at New York's Cooper Union School of Architecture, under its former dean John Hejduk, in the 1970s and '80s. He apprenticed with Japanese architect Arata Isozaki before establishing his own studio in 1985 in Tokyo. On the jury of the 2006 Pritzker Architecture Prize, he has received numerous awards including 1997's "Best Young Architect of the Year" from the Japan Institute of Architecture, the World Architecture Award for his design of the Japan Pavilion at the Hanover Expo 2000, the "Best House in the World" for his Naked House in the 2002 World Architecture Awards and the 2005 Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture.

Ban is best known for his paper tube structures, where cardboard tubes (recyclable, reusable, replaceable, bio-degradable, non-toxic, easy to transport and store, low-cost and readily-available) are a key structural element. He is credited with having made them an accepted primary construction material, washing away their fragile image by challenging long-held preconceptions. Despite paper being used for centuries in Japanese textiles and interiors, it is only in recent decades that paper tubes have been used in the construction industry.

Shigeru Ban Architects Europe and Jean de Gastines Architectes/ Metz Métropole/Centre Pompidou-Metz. Photo Roland Halbe
View from the third-fl oor gallery of the Centre Pompidou-Metz

In the mid-1980s, Ban began experimenting with alternative materials. Surprised at the strength, resistance and easy manipulation of paper, he started to use paper tubes in his buildings. He realised that recycled cardboard could be moulded into load-bearing columns, bent into elegant trusses and quickly assembled. However, instead of the usual practice of filling the tubes with concrete, he used only the cylinder itself, which allows the material to stay flexible and adopt various shapes.

"Even using weak materials, we can make strong, beautiful buildings. The strength of the structure has nothing to do with the strength of the material. We can make a building that withstands an earthquake out of paper. I've always been interested in using materials in a new way. We need to get rid of material prejudices," says Ban.

He refers to paper as "evolved wood" and favors it over wood as a building material because it is less expensive and lighter, and can be made fireproof and waterproof. He has built all sorts of structures—houses, libraries, cultural centers, museums, bridges—out of paper tubes.