Written by Coline Meynent
Shigeru Ban - Cardboard And Paper
Shigeru Ban is a japan architect well-known for his architecture of paper, particularly recycled cardboard paper tubes used to quickly and efficiently house disaster victims. The first time he has been using this material was for an exhibition on Alvar Aalto in 1986 and subsequently has been experimenting with the tubes as structural supports in his projects in place of timber or steel. The first project in the series of paper-tube constriction is the Paper Arbor design for the World Design Expo ‘89 of Nagoya in Japan.
In 1994, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) began distributing plastic sheets and hatchets amongst the 2,000,000 refugees of the Rwandan genocide. So many trees were cut down for shelters and fires that erosion and landslides became a major problem. But when the UNHCR distributed metal poles in place of branches, the poles were sold and tree-cutting resumed. Shigeru Ban realised that paper might be the solution to the Rwandan problem. He designed a temporary paper tube dwelling. The tubes could be manufactured locally and cheaply, and had no market value beyond their intended use.
In 1999, he was able to build 50 prototype shelters in Byumba Refugee Camp, Rwanda. By this time, he had already deployed his paper tube structures in Japan, Turkey and India. In the aftermath of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, he built 27 ‘paper log houses’ with sandbag-filled beer crates for foundations. He then constructed dwellings of the same design in Kaynasli, Turkey and Bhuj, India. In addition to the log houses, Ban erected a Paper Church in Kobe.
The most important theme in his work is the invisible structure. He doesn’t overtly express his structural elements, but rather chooses to incorporate it into the design. He is particularly interested in the expression of the concept behind his building. The materials he chooses to use are deliberately chosen for how they aid the building to do so.
Shigeru Ban’s experimental development of paper tubing structures came in 1986 before the question of any his programmatic commissions. He found paper’s structural integrity to be much better than expected and it is also available all around the world. They are most commonly available from manufacturers providing paper tubes for use in textile factories, as in the case with the disaster relief shelters project in Ahmedabad, India. Limited material availability during times of disaster relief reconstruction is a major concern and involves increased market prices. Paper tubing on the other hand, not being a typical building material, is comparatively inexpensive and very accessible. In a special case during in Turkey in 1999, he was able to get paper tubing for free.
“We don’t need innovative ideas. We just need to build normal things that can be made easily and quickly. A house is a house.”
The idea of using paper for building could let sceptical. This material could be perceived as more poor or weak rather than concrete or wood, as if it couldn’t endure over time. It seems to be impermanent. Shigeru Ban explains that even a concrete building can be demolished by a developer after a few years, thus making a ‘permanent’ building impermanent. According to him, ‘strong’ material can be easily destroyed by an earthquake, even concrete buildings. But paper structure is very ‘strong’ during an earthquake.
The papers houses built in 1995 after the Kobe earthquake were a reference for other houses in the aftermath of the earthquake in Kaynasli, Turkey and Bhuj, India. The cardboard structure of those houses was design to respond to the need of habitats anywhere in the world in any situation. Cardboard could also be removed from a place and reused easily in another one. In addition to being locally made around the World, cardboard does not increase in price after a disaster, making it inexpensive to source and use.
Houses are not the only ones to benefit from this technology. Shigeru Ban designed and built a church made of paper in just five weeks after Kobe earthquake. The church remained for 11 years, until a disaster struck Taiwan in 2006 and the church was taken apart and moved there.
The aim of the work on paper structures is at first presenting a low cost and low impact alternative to aluminium or wood structural supports. Most of the projects respond to the need of new houses and infrastructures for regions struck by disaster. This paper housing prototypes could be deployed with minimal effort and without any building knowledge. Those researches are also used to establish personal space and privacy for families crammed with hundreds of others into big open spaces. The structure allows flexible adaptation for differently sized user groups.
Outside of their capacity to simply and quickly house the newly homeless, the paper structures have also been utilised as temporary schools, theatres, architecture studios, exhibition pavilions, and even an arched bridge. By arranging tubes in a rigid triangular space frame, Shigeru Ban pushes their ability to constitute a variety of shapes and reveals the capacity of paper architecture to be a more complex and poetic function than is required from simple relief shelters
In the case of the ‘paper log houses’, the foundation is made of donated beer crates loaded with sandbags. The walls are made from 106 mm diameter, 4 mm thick paper tubes, with tenting material for the roof. For insulation, a waterproof sponge tape backed with adhesive is sandwiched between the paper tubes of the walls. The cost of materials for one 52 square meter unit is below $2000. The unit are easy to dismantle, and the materials easily disposed or recycled.
The major issue for this technology is to get permissions from government to build in paper-tube. This building technology isn’t as common and known as concrete or wooden structures.
Challenges and Opportunities
The aim of Shigeru Ban’s work on cardboard construction is noble. He tries to help people after several earthquakes, tsunamis... Many projects have been building over the years, all around the world. But it needs to be stated that his attempts to create temporary mass housing have not advanced beyond the prototype stage. Fifty dwellings have been built for Rwanda’s 2,000,000 refugees, and another fifty planned for Haiti’s 1,200,000 homeless. Unfortunately, each realisation isn’t on the scale of every disaster. The main challenge would be to find a way to create mass housing in cardboard paper. His work is also an opportunity to develop a new construction technique that could be usde for every type of building. This recyclable and reusable material would be an alternative to other material that isn’t as easy to reuse.