Written by Daniel Latto in Latest News

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  • TED: Shigeru Ban: Emergency shelters made from paper – Shigeru Ban (2013)
December 17, 2013

Hi. I am an architect. I am the only architect in the world making buildings out of paper like this cardboard tube, and this exhibition is the first one I did using paper tubes. 1986, much, much longer before people started talking about ecological issues and environmental issues, I just started testing the paper tube in order to use this as a building structure. It’s very complicated to test the new material for the building, but this is much stronger than I expected, and also it’s very easy to waterproof, and also, because it’s industrial material, it’s also possible to fireproof.

Then I built the temporary structure, 1990. This is the first temporary building made out of paper. There are 330 tubes, diameter 55 [centimeters], there are only 12 tubes with a diameter of 120 centimeters, or four feet, wide. As you see it in the photo, inside is the toilet. In case you’re finished with toilet paper, you can tear off the inside of the wall. (Laughter) So it’s very useful.

Year 2000, there was a big expo in Germany. I was asked to design the building, because the theme of the expo was environmental issues. So I was chosen to build the pavilion out of paper tubes, recyclable paper. My goal of the design is not when it’s completed. My goal was when the building was demolished, because each country makes a lot of pavilions but after half a year, we create a lot of industrial waste, so my building has to be reused or recycled. After, the building was recycled. So that was the goal of my design.

Then I was very lucky to win the competition to build the second Pompidou Center in France in the city of Metz. Because I was so poor, I wanted to rent an office in Paris, but I couldn’t afford it, so I decided to bring my students to Paris to build our office on top of the Pompidou Center in Paris by ourselves. So we brought the paper tubes and the wooden joints to complete the 35-meter-long office. We stayed there for six years without paying any rent.

(Laughter) (Applause)

Thank you. I had one big problem. Because we were part of the exhibition, even if my friend wanted to see me, they had to buy a ticket to see me. That was the problem.

Then I completed the Pompidou Center in Metz. It’s a very popular museum now, and I created a big monument for the government.

But then I was very disappointed at my profession as an architect, because we are not helping, we are not working for society, but we are working for privileged people, rich people, government, developers. They have money and power. Those are invisible. So they hire us to visualize their power and money by making monumental architecture. That is our profession, even historically it’s the same, even now we are doing the same. So I was very disappointed that we are not working for society, even though there are so many people who lost their houses by natural disasters. But I must say they are no longer natural disasters. For example, earthquakes never kill people, but collapse of the buildings kill people. That’s the responsibility of architects. Then people need some temporary housing, but there are no architects working there because we are too busy working for privileged people. So I thought, even as architects, we can be involved in the reconstruction of temporary housing. We can make it better. So that is why I started working in disaster areas.

1994, there was a big disaster in Rwanda, Africa. Two tribes, Hutu and Tutsi, fought each other. Over two million people became refugees. But I was so surprised to see the shelter, refugee camp organized by the U.N. They’re so poor, and they are freezing with blankets during the rainy season, In the shelters built by the U.N., they were just providing a plastic sheet, and the refugees had to cut the trees, and just like this. But over two million people cut trees. It just became big, heavy deforestation and an environmental problem. That is why they started providing aluminum pipes, aluminum barracks. Very expensive, they throw them out for money, then cutting trees again. So I proposed my idea to improve the situation using these recycled paper tubes because this is so cheap and also so strong, but my budget is only 50 U.S. dollars per unit. We built 50 units to do that as a monitoring test for the durability and moisture and termites, so on.

And then, year afterward, 1995, in Kobe, Japan, we had a big earthquake. Nearly 7,000 people were killed, and the city like this Nagata district, all the city was burned in a fire after the earthquake. And also I found out there’s many Vietnamese refugees suffering and gathering at a Catholic church — all the building was totally destroyed.

So I went there and also I proposed to the priests, “Why don’t we rebuild the church out of paper tubes?”

And he said, “Oh God, are you crazy? After a fire, what are you proposing?”

So he never trusted me, but I didn’t give up. I started commuting to Kobe, and I met the society of Vietnamese people. They were living like this with very poor plastic sheets in the park. So I proposed to rebuild. I raised — did fundraising. I made a paper tube shelter for them, and in order to make it easy to be built by students and also easy to demolish, I used beer crates as a foundation. I asked the Kirin beer company to propose, because at that time, the Asahi beer company made their plastic beer crates red, which doesn’t go with the color of the paper tubes. The color coordination is very important. And also I still remember, we were expecting to have a beer inside the plastic beer crate, but it came empty. (Laughter) So I remember it was so disappointing. So during the summer with my students, we built over 50 units of the shelters.

Finally the priest, finally he trusted me to rebuild. He said, “As long as you collect money by yourself, bring your students to build, you can do it.”

So we spent five weeks rebuilding the church. It was meant to stay there for three years, but actually it stayed there 10 years because people loved it. Then, in Taiwan, they had a big earthquake, and we proposed to donate this church, so we dismantled them, we sent them over to be built by volunteer people. It stayed there in Taiwan as a permanent church even now. So this building became a permanent building.

Then I wonder, what is a permanent and what is a temporary building? Even a building made in paper can be permanent as long as people love it. Even a concrete building can be very temporary if that is made to make money.

In 1999, in Turkey, the big earthquake, I went there to use the local material to build a shelter. 2001, in West India, I built also a shelter. In 2004, in Sri Lanka, after the Sumatra earthquake and tsunami, I rebuilt Islamic fishermen’s villages.

And in 2008, in Chengdu, Sichuan area in China, nearly 70,000 people were killed, and also especially many of the schools were destroyed because of the corruption between the authority and the contractor. I was asked to rebuild the temporary church. I brought my Japanese students to work with the Chinese students. In one month, we completed nine classrooms, over 500 square meters. It’s still used, even after the current earthquake in China.

In 2009, in Italy, L’Aquila, also they had a big earthquake. And this is a very interesting photo: former Prime Minister Berlusconi and Japanese former former former former Prime Minister Mr. Aso — you know, because we have to change the prime minister ever year. And they are very kind, affording my model. I proposed a big rebuilding, a temporary music hall, because L’Aquila is very famous for music and all the concert halls were destroyed, so musicians were moving out.

So I proposed to the mayor, I’d like to rebuild the temporary auditorium. He said, “As long as you bring your money, you can do it.” And I was very lucky. Mr. Berlusconi brought G8 summit, and our former prime minister came, so they helped us to collect money, and I got half a million euros from the Japanese government to rebuild this temporary auditorium.

Year 2010 in Haiti, there was a big earthquake, but it’s impossible to fly over, so I went to Santo Domingo, next-door country, to drive six hours to get to Haiti with the local students in Santo Domingo to build 50 units of shelter out of local paper tubes.

This is what happened in Japan two years ago, in northern Japan. After the earthquake and tsunami, people had to be evacuated in a big room like a gymnasium. But look at this. There’s no privacy. People suffer mentally and physically. So we went there to build partitions with all the student volunteers with paper tubes, just a very simple shelter out of the tube frame and the curtain. However, some of the facility authority doesn’t want us to do it, because, they said, simply, it’s become more difficult to control them. But it’s really necessary to do it.

They don’t have enough flat area to build standard government single-story housing like this one. Look at this. Even civil government is doing such poor construction of the temporary housing, so dense and so messy because there is no storage, nothing, water is leaking, so I thought, we have to make multi-story building because there’s no land and also it’s not very comfortable.

So I proposed to the mayor while I was making partitions. Finally I met a very nice mayor in Onagawa village in Miyagi. He asked me to build three-story housing on baseball [fields]. I used the shipping container and also the students helped us to make all the building furniture to make them comfortable, within the budget of the government but also the area of the house is exactly the same, but much more comfortable. Many of the people want to stay here forever. I was very happy to hear that.

Now I am working in New Zealand, Christchurch. About 20 days before the Japanese earthquake happened, also they had a big earthquake, and many Japanese students were also killed, and the most important cathedral of the city, the symbol of Christchurch, was totally destroyed. And I was asked to come to rebuild the temporary cathedral.

So this is under construction. And I’d like to keep building monuments that are beloved by people.

Thank you very much.


Thank you. (Applause)

Thank you very much. (Applause)

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