Sigeru Ban: “The sense of achievement after completion of a disaster relief project and a common project is the same”
In this interview Shigeru Ban shares his vision on social responsibility of architects, specificity of disaster relief projects, idea of a paper log house and one of Ban’s most recent disaster relief initiatives – сonstruction of temporary shelters and new housing, a Buddhist temple and an elementary school in Nepal.
– You have been involved in disaster relief architecture over two decades. In which way working in disaster relief is different from ordinary architectural practice?
– When I first started becoming involved in disaster relief projects, it was a challenge to balance the disaster relief projects and non-disaster relief projects. However, the only difference is whether or not the design fee can be obtained; the time it takes and sense of achievement after completion are the same. I feel that the barrier that had once divided the two categories is dissolved.
– When and why did you decide to be involved in disaster relief as an architect?
– I always thought the recognition towards social responsibility of architects is weak in Japan. I decided to start disaster relief when the Kobe earthquake occurred in 1995. When the disaster relief activities had finished, I felt that I should organize the Voluntary Architects’ Network (hereinafter VAN) and continue to support it in the future. Today at VAN we work with several office staffs, university laboratory (Keio University Shigeru Ban Lab), and local architects and universities around the disaster-affected areas.
– Was your decision to be be involved in disaster relief somehow influenced by the fact that Japan is located in one of the most active seismic and volcanic zones in the world?
– Disasters can happen anywhere, and so do aids. The decision was not particularly influenced by that, but I was always concerned about the poor living environment for the victims in evacuation centers. Temporary housing built with paper tubes in Kobe in 1995 was the start of the disaster relief work, and we started to provide paper tube partition systems to protect privacy at evacuation centers since 2004 Niigata Earthquake.
– How and when the model of a paper log shelter was invented? How has it evolved?
– Paper Log House was developed when the 1995 Kobe earthquake occurred. Since the Vietnamese refugees who worked at the local shoe factory refused to relocate (in order to remain nearby the shoe factory), we built log house using paper tubes in a local park. After the first paper log house in Kobe, we have also built further developed iterations of shelters in Turkey, India, and the Philippines. Their designs were adjusted to each region after examining such factors as climate, culture, economy, religion and commonly used materials.
– Is it desirable to make disaster relief architectural projects – universal in their nature? May there be one prototype of an emergency shelter/temporary housing/permanent housing after the earthquake struck applicable all over the globe?
– Looking at previous relief activities, there are no specific houses or shelters that can be applied in every disaster areas. It is important to design houses and shelters appropriate to each environment after considering the culture, economy, and typical construction methods of the affected region.
– There is a big number of natural disasters occurring throughout the world annually and it’s hardly possible to be involved in disaster relief of each of them. How do you choose places where you launch a disaster relief initiative?
– It is true that we cannot go to all the affected areas, but we may decide to take action on our own after acquiring information about scale of damage and current conditions, or decide to go when we get requests.
– How and when have you learnt about the Gorkha earthquake? What was its coverage in Japanese mass media?
– I was in Tokyo when the earthquake occurred in Nepal, and I learnt about the large scale of damage through the news. The earthquake was a big news in Japan, too.
– Why have you decided to launch the Nepalese project?
– A Nepali student studying in Tokyo sent us an email expressing that he would like to support those affected by the earthquake. Then I decided to visit Nepal and see the conditions in person.
– The Nepalese project was planned to have three phases – emergency response, temporary housing and permanent housing construction. How did the project implementation go in practice?
– Initially we visited the affected area to provide shelters that can be easily assembled with paper tubes. During the visit, we inspected the conditions and learned about their typical construction method, which is brick masonry, and high wood carving and processing techniques. Also, due to aftershocks, building that is resistant to earthquake was required. From this visit, the design for permanent housing arose.
– What are the main differences of the Nepalese project compared to other disaster relief initiatives done by VAN?
– Although it is not unique to Nepal, the design was generated after we carefully observed the economics and culture of the affected area, as well as construction customs and building materials, to best suit the local environment.
– When constructing emergency shelters, you use three types of joints – with duct tape, plastic or plywood connectors. Which of them do you consider preferable? Which one was used in Nepal?
– The Nepal shelter uses duct tape as joints, but rather than choosing which one is best, we are thinking about making optimal proposals from the materials readily available in the disaster areas.
– In Nepal you used a particular wall system that can be assembled by connecting modular wooden frames and infilling them with rubbled bricks. How have you tested this construction method? What were the results of those tests?
– Bricks are infilled in the wooden frame to allow the timber frame to bear the structural load and to ease the house assembling process. We have conducted several structural tests in a university in Japan to test for seismic performance and compare results to Japanese earthquake resistance standards. The results showed that by fixing plywood onto the timber frame, there is significantly less deformation. One element that we improved after tests was the timber frame design, namely fixing plywood in order to enhance shear strength.
– Besides providing people with housing, in Nepal you are keeping the tradition of creating a symbol of hope and recovery by constructing a temple (as in Kobe and Christchurch). How have you designed a Buddhist ecclesiastical fortification?
– We are designing a Buddhist temple in a place called Simigaon. Basis is using the same timber frame system as that of Nepal project, and a circular atrium with paper tube columns is incorporated to create sacred spatial atmosphere.
– One of your objects that are under construction now is Khumjung School in Sagarmatha National Park. How is it different from Hualin temporary elementary school in Sichuan province in China?
– Hualin Temporary Elementary School is very different from the start. The Khumjung School was realized with the request from Doshisha University Alpine Club in Japan. Khumjung is situated at a much higher altitude, and we successfully utilized local construction method and materials. In Chengdu, on the other hand, we asked the local authority directly requesting to build elementary school while on our visit to affected areas believing we can provide support to those needed. Construction was carried out by Japanese and Chinese students and teachers, while in Khumjung, a local contractor was in charge of construction work.
– What is your impression of Nepal as a venue for disaster relief project? (Were there any specific challenges for project realization posed by mountainous location, governmental administrative system or mentality of locals? Were there any particular advantages for project realization in Nepal?)
– With many NGOs in Japan supporting, Nepal has a charm of attracting people. As regions around Kathmandu and those in the Himalayas have different available construction materials, the design has to be adjusted accordingly. For instance, the infills for the timber frames in Kathmandu region are bricks whereas stones are used in the mountainous regions of the Himalayas.
– Do you trace the performance of your constructions (disaster relief temporary and permanent housing) when the project is over? Do you come back to disaster struck zones you were revitalizing after the project is over?
– In Japan, we built temporary houses after the earthquakes in Tohoku (2011) and Kumamoto (2016). I still find time to visit these places and check what is needed locally. After the Kumamoto temporary houses were completed, we made a number of visits. After hearing back from the residents, we made furniture such as kitchen side tables to make best use of the space.
– In your disaster relief projects you usually develop partnerships with local actors – universities and architects. How do you choose these local partners? What is their role in implementing the disaster relief project?
– For the selection of project partners, we sometimes approach local universities or architectural offices, but we also at times receive offers from them. We often invite students to participate in the construction work, and ask local architectural offices to communicate with local authorities and contractors.
– Implementation of disaster relief projects usually is done with the help of volunteers. What is the most challenging part of working with volunteers for you?
– Working with volunteers stimulates design challenges, as it is important to think about the simplest construction methods and to provide safe construction environment in order to work with volunteers.
– How do you usually raise funds for disaster relief projects?
– We receive donations from individuals and companies. Several companies have been continuously supporting our projects.
– Do you follow activities of any other architectural practice that launches disaster relief initiatives? Have you ever been cooperating with any of them?
– Although not paying particular attention to the activities of other architects, we have been cooperating with AMDA, a medical NGO in Japan, for a number of projects.
Renovation: the Far East Style
The competition project of renovating two central city blocks of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, developed by UNK project, won the nomination “Architectural and planning solutions of city construction”.
Park of Sentiments
The project of “Romantic Park Tuchkov Buyan”, which was developed by the consortium of Studio 44 and WEST 8, and has won an international competition, combines sculptural landscape design and wooden structures, variety of spatial features and an eventful agenda, designed for diverse audience, with a beautiful and complex passeist idea of a palace park, meant to evoke thoughts and feelings.
Architecture as an Educational Tool
The concept of a charity school “Tochka Budushchego” (“Point of the Future”) in Irkutsk is based on cutting-edge educational programs, and is designed, among other things, for adapting orphaned children for independent life. An important role is played by the architecture of the building: its structure and different types of interconnected spaces.
The Gallery Approach
In this article, we are covering the concept of a Central District Clinic for 240 patients, designed by Ginzburg Architects, which won at a competition organized by the Architects Union and the Healthcare Ministry.
In this issue, we are publishing the concept of a standard clinic designed by UNK Project, which took second place in the competition organized by the Union of Architects of Russia in collaboration with the Healthcare Ministry.
From Foundation to Teaspoon
Based on the taste of their friendly clients, the architects Olga Budennaya and Roman Leonidov designed and built a house in the Moscow metropolitan area playing Art Nouveau. At the same time, they enriched the typology of a private house with modern functions of a garage loft and a children’s art studio.
Continuation and Development
The second “office” stage of Comcity, the most popular business park of the “New Moscow” area, continues the underground street of the already existing part of the complex, responding to its architectural identity.
A Comfortable City in Itself
The project that we are about to cover is seemingly impossible amidst human anthills, chaotically interspersed with old semi-neglected dachas. Meanwhile, the housing complex built on the Comcity business part does offer a comfortable environment of decent city: not excessively high-rise and moderately private as a version of the perfect modern urbanist solution.
Moving on the Edge
The housing complex “Litsa” (“Faces”) on Moscow’s Khodynka Field is one of the new grand-scale buildings that complement the construction around it. This particular building skillfully tackles the scale, subjugating it to the silhouette and the pattern; it also makes the most of the combination of a challenging land site and formidable square footage requirements, packing a whole number of features within one volume, so the house becomes an analogue of a city. And, to cap it all, it looks like a family that securely protects the children playing in the yard from... well, from everything, really.
Visual Stability Agent
A comparatively small house standing on the border of the Bolshevik Factory combines two diametrically opposite features: expensive materials and decorative character of Art Deco, and a wide-spaced, even somewhat brutal, facade grid that highlights a laminated attic.
The Faraday Cage
The project of the boutique apartment complex in the 1st Truzhenikov Lane is the architects’ attempt to squeeze a considerable volume into a tiny spot of land, at the same time making it look graceful and respectable. What came to their rescue was metal, stone, and curvilinear glass.
The Union of Art and Technology
His interest for architecture of the 1930’s is pretty much the guiding star for Stepan Liphart. In his project of the “Amo” house on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, the architect based himself on Moscow Art Deco - aesthetically intricate and decorated in scratch-work technique. As a bonus, he developed the city block typology as an organic structure.
The project that Evgeniy Gerasimov and Partners developed for Moscow’s Leningrad Avenue: the tallest building in the company’s portfolio, continuing the tradition of Moscow’s Stalin architecture.
In the project that they developed for a southern region of Russia, OSA Architects use multilayered facades that create an image of seaside resort architecture, and, in the vein of the latest trends of today, mix up different social groups that the residents belong to.
Just a Mirror for the Sun
The house that Sergey Skuratov designed in Nikolovorobinsky Alley is thought out down to the last detail. It adapts three historical facades, interprets a feeling of a complex city, is composed of many layers, and catches plenty of sunlight, from sunrises to sunsets. The architect himself believes that the main role of this house is creating a background for another nearby project of his, Art House in the Tessinsky Alley.
Part of the Whole
On June 5, the winners of Moscow Architectural Award were announced. The winners list includes the project of a school in Troitsk for 2,100 students, with its own astronomy dome, IT testing ground, museum, and a greenhouse on the roof.
Yet another project of a private school, in which Archimatika realizes the concept of aesthetic education and introduces a new tradition: combining Scandinavian and Soviet experience, turning to works of art, and implementing sustainable technologies.
In the “Parallel House” residence that he designed in the Moscow metropolitan area, the architect Roman Leonidov created a dramatic sculptural composition from totally basic shapes – parallelepipeds, whose collision turned into an exciting show.
In the Istra district of Moscow metropolitan area, the tandem of 4izmerenie and ARS-ST designed a sports complex – a monovolume that has the shape of a chamfered parallelepiped with a pointed “nose” like a ship’s bow.
Stairway to Heaven
The project of a hotel in the settlement of Yantarny is an example of a new recreational complex typology, and a new format that unites the hotel, the business, and the cultural functions. All of this is complemented by 100% integration with nature.
Cape of Good Hope
In this issue, we are showing all the seven projects that participated in a closed-door competition to create a concept for the headquarters of Gazprom Neft, as well as provide expert opinions on those projects.
The Outer Space
Honoring the 300th anniversary of the Kuznetsk coal fields in 2021, a new passenger terminal of the Aleksey Leonov Airport in the city of Kemerovo will be built, designed by GK Spectrum and ASADOV Architectural Bureau.
The Pivot of Narkomfin Building
Ginzburg Architects finished the restoration of the Narkomfin Building’s laundry unit – one of the most important elements of the famous monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture.
The housing complex “Respublika” is so large that it can be arguably called a micro-town, yet, at the same time, it easily overcomes most of the problems that usually arise with mass housing construction. How could Archimatika achieve that? We are examining that on the example of the first stage of the complex.
The Flowing Lines
The five houses of the “Svoboda” block belonging to the “Simvol” residential complex present a vivid example of all-rounded work performed by the architects on an integral fragment of the city, which became the embodiment of the approach to architecture that hitherto was not to be seen anywhere in Moscow: everything is subjected to the flow of lines – something like a stream, enhanced by the powerful pattern of the facades akin to “super-graphics”.
A City by the Water
The concept of a large-scale housing development at the edge of Voronezh, near the city reservoir, or “the sea”, as it is locally called, uses the waterside height difference to create a sophisticated public space, paying a lot of attention to the distribution of masses that determine the look of the future complex if viewed from the opposite bank of the river.
A Journey to the Country of Art Deco
The “Little France” residential complex on the 20th line of the Vasilyevsky Island presents an interesting make-believe dialogue between its architect, Stepan Liphart, the architect of the New Hermitage, masters of the Silver Age, and Soviet Art Deco, about interesting professional topics, such as a house with a courtyard in the historical center of Saint Petersburg, and the balance between the wall and the stained glass in the architectonics of the facade. Here are the results of this make-believe conversation.
A House in a Port
This housing complex on the Dvinskaya Street is the first case of modern architecture on the Gutuevsky Island. The architectural bureau “A-Len” thoroughly explores the context and creates a landmark for further transformations of this area of Saint Petersburg.
Balance of Infill Development
Anatoly Stolyarchuk Architectural Studio is designing a house that inadvertently prevails over the surrounding buildings, yet still tries to peacefully coexist with the surrounding environment, taking it to a next level.
The Precious Space
Evolution Design and T+T Architects reported about the completion of the interior design project of Sberbank headquarters on the Kutuzovsky Avenue. In the center of the atrium, hovers the “Diamant” meeting room; everything looks like a chest full of treasures, including the ones of a hi-tech kind.
Big Little Victory
In a small-sized school located in Domodedovo in Moscow metropolitan area, ASADOV_ architects did a skillful job of tackling the constraints presented by the modest budget and strict spatial limitations – they designed sunlit classrooms, comfortable lounges, and even a multi-height atrium with an amphitheater, which became the center of school life.
The Social Biology of Landscape
The list of new typologies of public spaces and public projects has been expanded yet again — thanks to Wowhaus. This time around, this company came up with a groundbreaking by Russian standards approach to creating a place where people and animals can communicate.
Watched by the Angels from up Above
Held in the General Staff building of the Hermitage Museum, the anniversary exhibition of “Studio 44” is ambitious and diverse. The exhibition was designed to give a comprehensive showcase of the company’s architecture in a whole number of ways: through video, models, drawings, installations, and finally, through a real-life project, the Enfilade, which the exhibition opens up, intensifies, and makes work the way it was originally intended.
A New Version of the Old City
The house at Malaya Ordynka, 19, fits in perfectly with the lineup of the street, looking even as if it straightened the street up a little, setting a new tone for it – a tone of texture, glitter, “sunny” warmth, and, at the same time, reserved balance of everything that makes the architecture of an expensive modern house.
Stepan Liphart: “Standing your ground is the right thing to do”
A descendant of German industrialists, “Jophan’s son”, and an architect, speaks about how studying architectural orders tempers one’s character, and how a team of just a few people can design grand-scale housing projects to be built in the center of Saint Petersburg. Also: Santa Claus appearing in a Stalin high-rise, an arch portal to the outer space, mannerism painting, and the palaces of Paris – all covered in an interview with Stepan Liphart.
Honey and Copper
In the Moscow area, the architect Roman Leonidov designed the “Cool House” residence, very much in the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright, spreading it parallel to the ground, and accentuating the horizontal lines in it. The color composition is based on juxtaposition of warm wood of a honey hue and cold copper blue.
The Ring on the Saisara Lake
The building of the Philharmonic Hall and the Theater of Yakut Epos, standing on the shore of the sacred lake, is inscribed into an epic circle and contains three volumes, reminiscent of the traditional national housing. The roof is akin to the Alaas – a Yakut village standing around a lake. In spite of its rich conceptual agenda, the project remains volumetrically abstract, and keeps up a light form, making the most of its transparency, multiple layers, and reflections.
Architecture of Evanescence
On the Vernadskogo Avenue, next to the metro station, appeared a high-rise landmark that transformed the entire area: designed by UNK Project, the “Academic” business center uncovered, in the form of its architecture, the meanings of the local place names.