By Paula Baldo
Shigeru Ban will arrive in Ecuador at the end of the month and will visit the area devastated by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that affected the north coastal area of the country. The president of the College of Architects of the province of Pichincha, Handel Guayasamín, commented that "it is a historical fact" since for six years they have tried to get the Japanese expert to visit the Andean country inviting him to participate in the Quito Biennial without success .
Now the tragic event worked in his favor. The expert already confirmed his arrival in Ecuador on April 30 and also assured that he will offer an open conference for his colleagues. Ban will contribute his concrete experiences in response to disasters similar to the one that occurred in the Andean nation. Precisely for that work, in March 2014, Shigeru Ban was awarded the Pritzker Prize for architecture. The jury valued his work for using "the same inventive and skilled design for his extensive humanitarian efforts as for works for private clients.
Shigeru Ban defined himself as the only architect in the world who builds with paper and cardboard. "It is a resistant material, easy to waterproof and it is even possible that it is fire retardant", he defined it during a TED talk in Tokyo in May 2013. In this area he also expressed his disappointment with the profession of architect because he was not working for the society but for the rich, governments, developers.
"Many people lost their houses due to natural disasters but I must say that they are no longer natural disasters. For example, earthquakes do not kill people, but the collapse of buildings, yes. That responsibility is of the architects," he launched. It is precisely in situations where people need temporary housing that there are no architects involved in that goal and Ban decided to actively work in disaster areas.
In 1989 Ban built the first cardboard structure in Nagoya, Japan, which stood six months before being dismantled. Since then, he has perfected the technique in various projects that are characterized by the quality of their architectural space, which manages to blur the concept of precariousness of this material.
The first time that Shigeru Ban acted as an "emergency architect" was in Rwanda in 1994. The confrontation between two tribes had left more than 2 million people who became refugees. In the camps organized by the UN, they were only offered plastic tarps and the refugees cut trees to improve their housing and face the cold. This caused great deforestation and an environmental problem that forced the delivery of aluminum tubes to build tents. As this alternative was very expensive, Ban proposed to use recycled paper tubes: "It is cheap and resistant, my budget was only 50 dollars per unit," he explained.
The following year, after an earthquake in which 7,000 people died in Kobe, Japan, the city caught fire, increasing the number of people affected. There he rebuilt a church with paper tubes, a symbol of great importance for the people who were going through this situation. The building was used for 10 years until it was dismantled and reassembled in Taiwan during another catastrophe. In Kobe he also built 50 homes in which he used beer crates as a foundation.
Unfortunately, the list of natural disasters that demand the expertise of the Japanese is long. In 1999, in Turkey, Ban built a shelter out of seismic material and debris. In 2001, the emergency situation was repeated in India. In 2004 in Sri Lanka, after the Sumatra earthquake, I rebuilt Islamic fishing villages. In 2008, in the Chengdu area (China) where 70 thousand people died and many schools were destroyed, Shigeru Ban built 9 classrooms of 500 m2 in a month, always with the help of volunteers, usually students.
There were times when the architectural program was much more complex than that of a temporary home. This was the case of the earthquake in L’Aquila (Italy) that occurred in 2009. There, Ban built a temporary concert hall because in that city, famous for music, no hall had been left standing and the musicians were moving.
In Ecuador, it will surely build shelters with cardboard tubes or provide solutions to improve what the State is already doing. In Japan (2014) after an earthquake and tsunami, the people who had to be evacuated lived in a gym, without privacy. Shigeru Ban also went there to build curtained partitions, the structure of which was resolved with pipes. According to his experience, the specialist warned that governments face the inconvenience of lack of space to build temporary housing because they are generally developed on one floor. That is why in Japan he used containers to build three-story houses using baseball fields as land.