Shigeru Ban has used inexpensive designs for disaster relief shelters

Shigeru Ban, Japanese architect known for his creative and inexpensive designs for disaster relief shelters, has won the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize. The annual award, considered the most prestigious prize in the world of architecture, is given to designers who have “significantly contributed to humanity” and for “excellence in built work.”

In a significant departure this year, the prize has recognised for the first time an architect for his contribution to the critical, but often overlooked, area of housing disaster victims. Architectural awards in general favour designers who construct monumental, novel and expensive buildings.

Shigeru Ban, 56, started his involvement in disaster relief structures in 1994 in Rwanda. In 1995, he set up a non-governmental organisation, Voluntary Architects’ Network, for taking up work in Sri Lanka, India, Haiti, Italy and New Zealand.

Mr. Ban’s objective is to build inexpensive and easy-to-construct-and- dismantle structures. In Rwanda, he used recyclable cardboard tube frames, along with plastic sheets, to create temporary shelters. In Onagawa, Japan, he deployed shipping containers, along with paper frames, to house earthquake victims, and in the post-tsunami housing project in Kirinda, Sri Lanka, he chose bricks and rubber wood. In 2001, Mr. Ban participated in Bhuj earthquake relief work.

The jury, which included Ratan Tata who has studied architecture, said Mr. Ban’s works “strive for appropriate products and systems that are in concert with the environment and the specific context, using renewable and locally produced materials.”

Mr. Ban’s practice is not limited to low-cost and recyclable structures. It includes museums, offices, auditorium and clubhouses. Notable among them are the seven-storied wooden office-building in Zurich, and the church made of cardboard tubes and colour glasses in Christchurch, New Zealand.

As the jury observed in its citation, Mr. Ban’s designs are characterised by “experimental approach,” “inspired freshness,” “elegant simplicity” and “apparent effortlessness.”

The prize, instituted by Hyatt Foundation, carries $100,000 grant, a citation and a bronze medallion. Mr. Ban would be the seventh Japanese architect to receive the prize when it is given away on June 13 in Amsterdam.

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