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Shigeru Ban: An Architect for Emergencies

by Michel Quinejure, Director
First Run / Icarus Films, Brooklyn NY, 2006
VHS/DVD. 52 mins., col.
Sales: $390; rental/VHS: $75
Distributor’s website: http://www.frif.com

Reviewed by Roy R. Behrens

Department of Art
University of Northern Iowa
Website: http://www.bobolinkbooks.com


Japanese architect Shigeru Ban (1957-) is usually referred to as an "ecological architect." His reputation has grown steadily in recent years, not only because of the heightened concern about global ecology and the increased practice of recycling, but also because he is interested in the development of prefab, low-cost housing for the victims of natural disasters and other emergencies, of which there have been many. This film is a helpful, inspiring look at Ban’s architectural philosophy (conveyed through interviews), his frequently surprising use of inexpensive, common materials for extraordinary purposes (such as housing he devised from simple cardboard tubes, beer cases and plastic-sheet roofing), and, at the same time, his improvisational use of everyday components in the construction of strikingly elegant forms for homes, churches and pavilions. Unlike so many buildings in "serious" architecture–designed to endure as key monuments in the history of architecture–much of Ban’s work is temporary, even ephemeral, not unlike the original plan for the Crystal Palace. The preeminent goal of his work is its function. Its lifespan is less important than is its affordability, rapidity of construction, and the ease of removing the structure when it has outlived its usefulness, at which time the parts are recycled. Although he addresses immediate needs, Ban sees architectural forms as abstractions, somewhat as Frank Lloyd Wright did because of his childhood experience with the geometric wooden blocks of Friedrich Froebel, the originator of kindergarten. In 2000, Time Magazine chose him as one of the new century’s leading innovators. Very likely they were right, and it would surely be wise to find out more about this resourceful architect.

(Reprinted by permission from Ballast Quarterly Review, Volume 21 Number 1, Autumn 2007.)



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