Since its establishment thirty-five years ago, the goal of the Pritzker Architecture Prize is to recognize living architects for excellence in built work and who make a significant and consistent contribution to humanity.
Shigeru Ban, the 2014 laureate, reflects this spirit of the prize to the fullest. He is an outstanding architect who, for twenty years, has been responding with creativity and high quality design to extreme situations caused by devastating natural disasters. His buildings provide shelter, community centers, and spiritual places for those who have suffered tremendous loss and destruction. When tragedy strikes, he is often there from the beginning, as in Rwanda, Turkey, India, China, Italy, and Haiti, and his home country of Japan, among others.
His creative approach and innovation, especially related to building materials and structures, not merely good intentions, are present in all his works. Through excellent design, in response to pressing challenges, Shigeru Ban has expanded the role of the profession; he has made a place at the table for architects to participate in the dialogue with governments and public agencies, philanthropists, and the affected communities. His sense of responsibility and positive action to create architecture of quality to serve society´s needs, combined with his original approach to these humanitarian challenges, make this year´s winner an exemplary professional.
The recipient has an exceptionally wide-ranging career. Since founding his first office in Tokyo in 1985 and later expanding to New York and Paris, he has undertaken projects that range from minimal dwellings, experimental houses and housing, to museums, exhibition pavilions, conference and concert venues, and office buildings.
An underpinning uniting much of his built work is his experimental approach. He has expanded the architectural field regarding not only the problems and challenges he tackles, but also regarding the tools and techniques to deal with them. He is able to see in standard components and common materials, such as paper tubes, packing materials or shipping containers, opportunities to use them in new ways. He is especially known for his structural innovations and the creative use of unconventional materials like bamboo, fabric, paper, and composites of recycled paper fiber and plastics.
In Naked House, he was able to question the traditional notion of rooms and consequently domestic life, and simultaneously create a translucent, almost magical atmosphere. This was done with modest means: walls externally clad in clear corrugated plastic and sections of white acrylic stretched internally across a timber frame. This sophisticated layered composition of ordinary materials used in a natural and efficient way, provides comfort, efficient environmental performance and simultaneously a sensual quality of light.
His own studio, atop a terrace at the Pompidou Center in Paris for the six years he was working on the museum project for Metz, was built using cardboard tubes and a membrane covering the arched roof. He has also used transportation containers as ready-made elements in museum construction. His body of work is proof of his ability to add value through design. Further new conceptual and structural ideas were developed and can be seen in PC Pile House, House of Double Roof, Furniture House, Wall-less House, and Nine-Square Grid House.
Another theme that runs through his work is the spatial continuity between interior and exterior spaces. In Curtain Wall House, he uses tent-like movable curtains to easily link interior and exterior, yet provide privacy when needed. The fourteen-story Nicolas G. Hayek Center in Tokyo is covered with glass shutters on front and back facades that can be fully opened.
For Shigeru Ban, sustainability is not a concept to add on after the fact; rather, it is intrinsic to architecture. His works strive for appropriate products and systems that are in concert with the environment and the specific context, using renewable and locally produced materials, whenever possible. Just one example is his newly opened Tamedia office building in Zurich, which uses an interlocking timber structural system, completely devoid of joint hardware and glue.
His great knowledge of structure and his appreciation for such masters as Mies van der Rohe and Frei Otto have contributed to the development and clarity of his buildings. His own architecture is direct and honest. However, it is never ordinary, and each new project has an inspired freshness about it. The elegant simplicity and apparent effortlessness of his works are really the result of years of practice and a love for building. Above all, his respect for the people who inhabit his buildings, whether victims of natural disaster or private clients or the public, is always revealed through his thoughtful approach, functional plans, carefully selected appropriate materials, and the richness of spaces he creates.
Shigeru Ban is a tireless architect whose work exudes optimism. Where others may see insurmountable challenges, Ban sees a call to action. Where others might take a tested path, he sees the opportunity to innovate. He is a committed teacher who is not only a role model for younger generations, but also an inspiration.
For all these reasons, Shigeru Ban is the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate.