Ethical Aesthetics

Luis Fernández-Galiano 

I met Shigeru Ban at the best place and the best time. The Alvar Aalto Symposium was held in August of 2000 in Jyväskylä under the motto ‘architecture in the year zero,’ and if in my lecture I defended a return to order disapproving the catastrophic forms then in vogue, Ban would explain how the Kobe earthquake of 1995 had caused a tremor in his work stimulating the development of emergency projects, and in particular the now mythical designs for the Paper Log House and Paper Church. Both were built with cardboard tubes, which he had started to use in his design of an Aalto furniture exhibition in Tokyo in 1986 – evoking the woods of Finland that he had discovered traveling with photographer and editor Yukio Futagawa – and later in Expo ’89 in Nagoya, the Library of a Poet, the Odawara pavilion, a shop for Miyake, and the 1994 Paper House, which for the first time obtained permission to give the tubes a structural function.

The most noteworthy of these projects had already been published in Arquitectura Viva – along with the Furniture House, where the cupboards support the roof like the furniture of some houses had saved the lives of their occupants during the earthquake –, but the year 2000 would be a true ‘year zero’ in the career of the architect, because his Japan Pavilion at the Hannover Expo gave great exposure to the concept explored in his Paper Dome of 1998, and its author would become a reference in the field. From the first houses, experimental in the syntactic manner learned from John Hejduk, he had moved towards the material innovation inspired by Buckminster Fuller or Frei Otto, and it was only a matter of time before the imagination and elegance expressed in the emergency projects would be extended to works of increasing symbolic relevance, where structural invention is the chosen means to reconcile aesthetics with ethic.

Taking this ‘year zero’ as a watershed, Ban’s works since are presented in four chapters that take this itinerary further: the first one covering the paper saga that started with the Aalto exhibition, going from the Hannover dome to a cabin in a natural park; the second illustrating his numerous domestic experiences with five unexpected houses; the third taking stock of his commitment to aid in emergency situations around the world; and the fourth and last featuring his most emblematic works, from the Centre Pompidou in Metz to the recently completed La Seine Musicale, which express well both his ecological conscience and his geometric inventiveness. Twenty projects that perhaps offer a pixelled portrait of an architect stubbornly faithful to his convictions, tirelessly experimental in his constructions, and fortunately consistent in a career that was shaken by a quake and lit by an Expo.[+]

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