“I believe that the material doesn’t need to be strong to be used to build a strong structure. The strength of the structure has nothing to do with the strength of the material.” Shigeru Ban

When compared to other great living architects, writing about Shigeru Ban is difficult, because no one can truly appreciate his grandeur and stunning construction unless they see it in person. This isn’t because his works aren’t stunning at first glance; it’s because no one can understand the complexity of design that he incorporates – A timeless, deep, and profound philosophy into his design.

To put it another way, Ban has an “International Style.” Though Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe were influential in his early architectural training, it is a different, more eclectic group of figures—Alvar Aalto, Buckminster Fuller, and Frei Otto, as well as the architects of Southern California’s Case Study Houses, which began in the 1940s—who have left the most lasting impression on his work.

Wall-less House by Shigeru Ban: Universal Floor - Sheet1
Shigeru Ban Potrait_asiapacificarchitecturefestival.com

Shigeru Ban is a Japanese architect best known for his innovative work with paper, specifically recycled cardboard tubes used to quickly and efficiently create spaces for disaster victims.  Ban was named the 37th recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The Jury praised Ban for his artful use of materials as well as his dedication to humanitarian efforts around the world, describing him as: 

a committed teacher who is not only a role model for the younger generations but also an inspiration.”

In the 1990s, Shigeru Ban began experimenting with interior spaces for affluent Japanese clients. Ban’s distinctive domestic architecture—combining atypical, industrial goods and dividing space with partitions—is one of a kind.

Wall-less House by Shigeru Ban: Universal Floor - Sheet2
Living on the Edge_©Hiroyuki Hirai

Developing the Universal Floor 

Shigeru Ban finished the Wall-less House, also known as the House Without Walls, in 1997. In this project, Ban created a “universal floor,” a concept popularised by Robert Kronenberg in “Transportable Environments”. Walls fall away, leaving only the essentials for survival. Every place is connected by a universal floor, that is, one singular continuous floor that extends over the entire carpet area compensating for the missing walls. The restroom floor is the same as the floor in the office, living room, or kitchen.

Shigeru Ban’s house seamlessly transitions from a horizontal living platform to a vertical threshold, blurring the edge framework that allows spatial reading. To suit program requirements, its Cartesian geometry is distorted; a field of the wall-ground hybrid protrudes into space like a table. The surface construction creates a universal floor on which spatial zones are placed around separate sanitary equipment components. 

Wall-less House by Shigeru Ban: Universal Floor - Sheet3
the Seamless Universal Floor_ archeyes.com

With the abandonment of specific program regions, space becomes malleable and interpretable. The inside and external spatial boundaries are altering. With the simple usage of sliding partitions, rooms that were once public can now be private and vice versa.

A house without walls necessitates a shift in terminology. There are no bathrooms, bedrooms, or living rooms. The room-less language is shaped by the wall-less design. It has an open interior floor plan – universal floor as well as a small number of outside walls. You may imagine how filthy the flooring must become, but if you can afford a custom-designed home by a Pritzker Laureate, you can also afford regular housekeeping. 

Wall-less House by Shigeru Ban: Universal Floor - Sheet4
The Room-less Language_archeyes.com

Because the house is built on a sloping site, the back half of the house is dug into the ground, and the excavated dirt is utilized as fill for the front half, resulting in a level floor. The buried rear half of the house’s floor surface curves up to meet the roof, naturally absorbing the earth’s imposed weight. The roof is level and rigidly attached to the upturned slab, allowing the three front columns to be free of any horizontal loads. These columns could be lowered to a minimum diameter of 55 mm by bearing solely on vertical stresses.

Wall-less House by Shigeru Ban: Universal Floor - Sheet5
The Exploded Scheme_Shigeru Ban

One might question Ban’s creativity while contemplating the idea of wall-less design—as to why anyone would need it in the first place.

  • Views and Aesthetics: Why segregate living areas from the surrounding environment if your home’s location is all about the view? In most circumstances, sliding glass wall technologies render permanent outside barriers obsolete.
  • Spatial attributes: When energy accumulates to toxic levels, space cleaning is important. “The proper placement of walls can encourage a favourable flow of energy and boost the positive sensations in a home,” 
  • Cost Efficiency: Interior walls may increase building expenses and will almost surely increase interior decoration expenditures. A home without internal walls may be less expensive than a home with interior walls, depending on the design, engineering, and materials used.
  • Psychology of Design: For households with children and people who have memory loss, exterior walls may be required. Interior walls, on the other hand, frequently perplex patients suffering from dementia.
A peek into the infinite floor house_Hiroyuki Hirai

To conclude and summarise this absolute miracle of a design—it suffices to say that Shigeru Ban has done the impossible most crudely and elegantly possible in the world of architecture. This abomination of a structure is a trendsetter and an embodiment of elegance that has set new standards in the history of design.

References

Doctor of Arts, U. of A., M. S., L.E., B. A., E., Facebook, F. and Twitter, T. (n.d.). Where’s the bathroom in a wall-less house? [online] ThoughtCo. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/live-in-house-without-walls-177577

 [Accessed 8 Aug. 2021].

ArchEyes. (2020). Wall-less House in Nagano / Shigeru Ban. [online] Available at: https://archeyes.com/wall-less-house-shigeru-ban/.

‌Architectmagazine.com. (2021). [online] Available at: https://www.architectmagazine.com/project-gallery/wall-less-house

[Accessed 8 Aug. 2021].

By, By, By, By, By, By, By and By (2019). Shigeru Ban Is Changing the Priorities of Architecture. The New York Times. [online] 15 Oct. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/10/15/t-magazine/shigeru-ban.html.

Author

Abhishek Guha is an architecture undergraduate who wishes to create life altering spaces & experiences through his designs . His interests - writing, fashion, and cooking, are as erratic as he is. As a spontaneous extrovert who enjoys meeting new people, he seeks knowledge about the architectural paradigm while exploring the world.

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