The man who’s happiest designing paper shelters in Rwanda and Haiti


Rwanda’s paper shelters

T’was well said that Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban’s work is a kind of anti-architecture, a sleek, low-cost design for the greater common good.

There are many good architects in the world. There aren’t quite so many that believe it’s supremely important to build for social justice.

Just last month, Mr Ban spoke at London’s Ecobuild, an annual conference on sustainable design, and lamented the lack of good architects hard at work on the unglamorous task of providing temporary housing. “I’m thinking we can work more for the public…we are too busy building for the privileged people,” he said.

In this, the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, it’s worth noting that it was Rwanda’s refugee camps that originally drew Mr Ban’s attention to the field of expert disaster relief design. Appalled at the squalid camps, he headed for Geneva to work with the United Nations High Commissioner to design better tents using paper poles. It was an idea he would later use in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Mr Ban’s social conscience is especially noteworthy in the light of his pre-eminence. He has offices in Tokyo, New York and Paris and has executed such lucrative and plum commissions such as a set of glass duplex penthouses in lower Broadway and other condominiums and flagship stores in New York. But Mr Ban says he’s “not really interested in making money…(I’m) not interested in the design fee. As long as I can make people happy to use my building. I’m happy.”

Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac