The inventive work of Shigeru Ban

Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban’s first Australian presentation is on view now at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF). For over 20 years, Shigeru Ban has been leading the conversation on global disaster relief architecture. His philosophy is to challenge the conception that architecture is only a glitzy and elite field, instead, throughout his work, he uses architectural methods and design capabilities to engage with some of the most urgent fields of inquiry in the world today; global warming, political conflict, natural disaster and migration.

Shigeru Ban Architects, Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch, New Zealand, 2013. Photograph: Stephen Goodenough. Courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects

Ban’s practice is driven by an acute sense of curiosity, a paring back to the basics of architecture in combination with a strong connection to the philosophy and ethics surrounding direct community engagement. He is widely recognised for his striking use of materiality, and often his work will feature what is perceived as unconventional materials in disaster relief projects, such as bamboo, fabric, paper, and recycled composites. It is this economy of means that has given the architect much success in winning over the communities that he works for on his disaster relief work. Ban’s experimentation with the provision of emergency shelters began with a response to refugees fleeing the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Since then, this disaster relief work has extended across the world, responding to disasters in Sri Lanka, Haiti, Japan, Turkey, India, New Zealand, the Philippines, Nepal and more.

Shigeru Ban Architects, Paper Log House, Kobe, Japan, 1995 Photograph: Hiroyuki Hirai. Courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects

Ban explains, “It’s not just building; it’s learning the culture and the lifestyle — this is part of the enjoyment of architecture. I love to continue learning and accumulating different cultures — that’s my biggest interest.”

Sherman Contemporary’s exhibition, ‘The inventive work of Shigeru Ban: SCAF Projects 34 & 35’ has been in the making for over two years. The project has been enabled through the vision and energy of SCAF Executive Director Dr Gene Sherman, who has been following Ban’s practice for years, likening the breath of his approach to other international artists previously staged at SCAF, such as Ai Weiwei.

The inventive work of Shigeru Ban, installation view, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney, 2017. Photograph: Brett Boardman

Sherman offered, “Australia is inevitably part of the globalised world. As a country, strategies and methodologies need to be set in place in order to create sustainable, affordable housing. Too often we lose lives and occasionally whole communities to bush fires and other natural disasters. We are part of the NOW and the issues that are current.”

The inventive work of Shigeru Ban, installation view, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney, 2017. Photograph: Brett Boardman

What to expect? The Courtyard Garden space of SCAF will feature two of Shigeru Ban’s signature disaster relief shelters; spanning the course of his career, from one of his first structures from Kobe in 1995, continuing to a more recent structure made in 2016 for the Ecuador earthquake. Inside the interior gallery audiences will have access to a wide array of Ban’s disaster relief projects presented over the course of his career. These include the Shigeru Ban Architects’ 2000 Japan Pavilion in Hannover, Germany, to the 2013 Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The inventive work of Shigeru Ban, installation view, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney, 2017. Photograph: Brett Boardman

Ban’s architectural attitude and use of materiality, paired with the sheer energy of his international career will spark curiosity in audiences through this exhibition. I believe this project will resonate on a personal level to a wide public, and will enable us to see a different side of disaster-relief, beyond the snappy news headlines.

Tess Maunder is a writer and curator, currently working between Australia and Asia and the United States.

Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation
Until 1 July, 2017
Sydney