Today I was flipping through the new Phaidon book out about the architect and Keio University professor in Environmental Information, Shigeru Ban. If y'all have looked at my defunct Japan blog, usagi-kage, you know I am very suspicious of Japan's future in environmental stability. This is a country that routinely bulldozes its Edo period architecture to plop down cement blocks made to last 20 years that were commissioned from top Japanese architects. Bleh.
But this is why I stood up and took notice of Ban. He is at the forefront of the economic and environmental revolution. Ban is designing and constructing buildings out of recyclable cardboard. His buildings are entirely made of paper.
Lifted from Time's site:
There are a few ineluctable facts about buildings. They are expensive, time consuming and labor intensive to make. They are strongest if built from the sturdiest materials. Well, no, on all counts. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has built homes, pavilions and churches, some of them permanent, using little more than cardboard tubes. "I was interested in weak materials," says Ban, 42. "Whenever we invent a new material or new structural system, a new architecture comes out of it."
Ironically, Ban may be closer to the old modernist ideals than many who build today in glass and steel. He wants beauty to be attainable by the masses, even the poorest. Ban first began to use the tubes in the '80s, in exhibitions. Impressed by the material's load-bearing capacity (he calls cardboard "improved wood"), he thought of them again in 1995, after the Kobe earthquake, and used donated 34-ply tubes to build a community hall and houses.
Working with the U.N., Ban has shipped paper log houses to Turkey and Rwanda. "Refugee shelter has to be beautiful," he says. "Psychologically, refugees are damaged. They have to stay in nice places." But it's not all about utility. Ban has managed to turn ugly-duckling cardboard into some gorgeous swans.
The Japanese pavilion he created for this year's EXPO 2000 in Hannover, Germany, is a huge undulating grid of paper tubes enclosed, like a covered wagon, with a paper canopy. A nine-ton, 87-ft.-long lattice arch of tubes currently swoops over the garden at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, casting a thatch of ever changing shadows. Ban's designs touch the earth lightly in more ways than one. After EXPO 2000, his pavilion will be shipped to a recycling center to be returned to the pulp from whence it came. Just try that with bricks.
The idea of beauty attainable by the masses is something I hold very dear to my heart, and Ban's environmental leanings aside, is the single most important thing this man can be doing. Refugee shelter has to be beautiful. Inner-city structure has to be beautiful. Beauty has to be accessible to the masses. The ignorance of these simple rules is one of the things at the core of human suffering.
Now, stay with me here.
Living in a high-crime urban area, I have seen that it is the marginal poverty-stricken parts of town that are ignored when it comes to parks, and trees, and clean streets, and services. These areas, in turn, are crime-ridden, and very often full of adults and children who learn to define life through the harsh conditions that surround them. How can one appreciate anything if you are denied that which is beautiful -- a basic human right -- by virtue of socioeconomic status? There are various theories that abound concerning this. I continue to be flabbergasted that city planners do almost nothing to alleviate this problem, while pandering to rich communities that very often take their beauty for granted to the extent of incomprehension as well.
And this beauty is not only physical. Take poetry. Poetry, up until the 60s or so, was for the people. Poets like Edna St. Vincent Millay sold thousands of books, not solely to academics and other poets (like now) but to everyone from them to the working poor, because she took the core visceral ideas of being and gave it to you in a package that spoke to your essence as human. Beauty wasn't something for the privileged few who had esoteric degrees or could read French. Beauty was was owed to you because you were. The introduction of language poetry in the 1970s encouraged poetry to be pedantic and, frankly, a pain in the ass. The primal beauty of being was lost, and highbrow ivory towerism prevailed, driving a huge wedge between those who had education, and those who did not. Don't get me wrong, I love a poet who can really work some prose in a striking way, but I'm fortunate enough to be unintimidated by horseshit.
This is not to say that just because you are blessed by beauty in your life that things magically get better or you and your neighbor are suddenly best friends and everything smells like roses. Or that if you are poor you are uneducated and incapable of understanding language poetry, and that you can only experience beauty through Billy Collins (ugh). But in general terms, in this world of ugliness, environmental finity, strife, poverty, and suffering, I am glad there are people thinking about applying the simple concept of beauty for all in place of the failures of entities like Halliburton and FEMA.