“Architects are not building temporary housing because we are too busy building for the privileged people… I am not saying I am against building monuments, but I think we can work more for the public,” declares the Pritzker Prize winner and the architect of the Paper Log Houses, Shigeru Ban. And, we could not agree more with Ban. 

Shigeru Ban has been regarded for his work with innovation and unprecedented structural systems for a very long period now. He has delivered innovative studies with recycled cardboard materials and observed different flexible forms and methods to build with them. Furthermore, Ban also made it possible to be water and fire-resistant.

Paper Log Houses by Shigeru Ban: Recyclable Materials and Architecture Sheet1
Shigeru Ban ©Joel Saget

Shigeru Ban finds the “Invisible Structure” as one of the most vital design approaches. He is interested in two elements such as producing architecture that helps people and demonstrating that paper can be a feasible building material like steel or concrete. It implies his approach to being simplistic and economical, two components needed to respond to the complexity of post-disaster situations. These two elements become considerably essential when understanding Ban’s design philosophy.

Paper Log House Kobe (1995)

Paper Log Houses by Shigeru Ban: Recyclable Materials and Architecture Sheet2
Paper Log House Kobe_ ©1995 Shigeru Ban Architects

In 1995, a disastrous earthquake hit Kobe, Japan. It devastated the city and caused more than three hundred thousand people to leave in despair and homeless. The consequence of the quake was that more than two thousand buildings in the city of Kobe were ravaged. Six months after the crises, recognizing the critical demands, Architect Shigeru Ban took upon this challenge to create an innovative approach for developing these emergency shelters in response to the severe needs of the people. This novel prototype of construction became noted as the Paper Log House.

The Paper Log House has several vital parts that approach the demands of people who are the victims of the earthquake. It is economical and able to depend upon the availability of the commonly found material. Because of the abundance of the material, the victims or the government can efficiently obtain the materials to create the structures rapidly. And, as the structure remains simplistic in design and construction, they can be built by unskilled labourers, or to say, by anybody. 

The method of constructing this house is accelerated even without any means of machinery requirement. Each Paper Log house can be built by eight locals in just two days when they are equipped with all the materials. It supports the victims to be sheltered immediately if they have any other incoming tremors. 

In addition, Shigeru Ban’s innovation made it possible for these houses to be easily dismantled, hence the government did not have to spend a large sum of funds on cleaning up the place. The disassembled parts can also be recycled. In turn, it makes it a conscious decision to support the residents, the governments, and indeed, the environment.

Paper Log House Kobe (1995)

Paper Log Houses by Shigeru Ban: Recyclable Materials and Architecture Sheet3
Paper Log House Kobe_©2000 Shigeru Ban Architects

Shigeru Ban’s novel innovation for emergency housing Paper Log House in Kobe, Japan was a thriving model. Noticing the beneficial use of the innovation, he furthermore introduced it to other countries around the world. Following it, Paper Log Houses have been built for earthquake survivors in Turkey and India. Its concept was used to build for those uprooted by genocide in Rwanda and for the design of transitional houses for refugees in Kosovo. 

Paper Log Houses equipped victims with more affordable, more hygienic housing shortly. The merit of the Paper Log House is not only the innovation of material but also the humanitarian concerns that it delivered to society.

Paper Log House Kobe Construction Process

Paper Log Houses by Shigeru Ban: Recyclable Materials and Architecture Sheet4
Paper Log House Kobe Construction Process_©1995 Shigeru Ban Architects

Shigeru Ban’s innovation with simplistic and recyclable materials built a practical emergency relief shelter and also allowed it to be a product of craftsmanship. The 13 feet by 13 feet shelter Paper Log Houses consist of beer crates, sandbags, plywood, cardboard tubes, waterproof tape, and steel rods. The advantages of materials like paper tubes include that they are durable, recyclable, reusable, bio-degradable, and non-toxic. 

About four rows of beer crates are used to build the foundation of the Paper Log House by also making it flood-resistant. It is followed by a layer of plywood for the flooring. Pegs are arranged on the edge of the flooring to secure the floor in position. Furthermore, Cardboard tubes which are 106mm in diameter, 4mm thick are placed on the flooring in the position of walls. Additional support was provided to the structure with 13 feet rods placed horizontally in the tubes.

A plywood frame with tent-like material is bound to the frame as part of the roofing system. The roofing system is mechanized so it can be operable under climatic conditions. It is treated as a separate element from the rest of the shelter, so during summer the air can circulate and in winter it allows the warm air within the structure. Besides, the waterproof tape and sponges enable the weather to stay out of the temporary shelter. 

Shigeru Ban noted all the minute details and factors to make the shelter livable and affordable, opposed to the residence’s old disaster-stricken house. The shelter is straightforward to set up and it takes less than six hours to assemble. The entire cost of the Paper Log House is very economical at about $2000. The materials are easy to store and transport to the site, including paper tubes that could be made on-site.

Paper Log House India (2001)

Paper Log Houses by Shigeru Ban: Recyclable Materials and Architecture Sheet5
Paper Log House India_©2001 Shigeru Ban Architects

In the year 2001, in India, the construction differed in many ways from in Japan. Shigeru Ban adapted to the limitations of materials in the context. He built the walls of the paper tubes, but for the foundation, they took rubble from a collapsed building and made traditional mud floors. Ban also designed a more novel roof, utilizing the nearby bamboo to pattern an intricate vaulted roof and whole bamboo to the ridge beams. A locally woven cane mat was placed over the bamboo rib vaults which was accompanied by a clear plastic tarpaulin to protect from rain and harsh wind. Gables were used to provide ventilation, where small holes in the can mat allow air to circulate.

Throughout the creation of the Paper Log Houses, it is apparent that it was solely achievable through the works of the locals. Shigeru Ban has had a positive impact on the way emergency shelters are designed and imagined by making them practical and resilient.  

For Ban, these structures were a notable contribution by his NGO Voluntary Architects’ Network (VAN), an organization that helps people through calamitous natural disasters by implementing architectural solutions such as emergency housing, shelters, community centres, and spiritual facilities. He also won the Architecture for Humanity Award (USA) for the Paper Log House (1995). 

Shigeru Ban, an architect of opulence houses, condominiums, and museums, is perhaps more famous as an innovative architect of emergency shelters, for people experiencing quakes and floods, for people escaping violence and genocide. And, rightly so, considering his remark, “Rather than going from one high-profile commission to the next, the architect has an alternative focus: designing shelters for the displaced,” Shigeru Ban’s works continue to teach us that our built environment is multifaceted. 


MartinY. 2021. Research: Shigeru Ban. [online] Available at: <https://martinyblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/research-shigeru-ban/> [Accessed 6 June 2021].

Shigerubanarchitects.com. 2021. SBA. [online] Available at: <http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/works/2001_paper-log-house-india/index.html> [Accessed 6 June 2021].

Shigerubanarchitects.com. 2021. SBA_Paper Log Houses. [online] Available at: <http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/works/2000_paper-log-house-turkey/index.html> [Accessed 6 June 2021].

Shigerubanarchitects.com. 2021. Shigeru Ban Architects. [online] Available at: <http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/works/1995_paper_log_house_kobe/index.html> [Accessed 6 June 2021].



Spoorthi Nagaraj is a freshly graduated architect who is intrigued about urban studies and sociology. She is an architect by the day and a writer by the night. Her passion towards equity, resilience and sustenance is what flows through the content she writes.