A person with major laurels in his name, Shigeru Ban is one of the star architects whose signature starts with material as humble as paper. Born in Japan, Ban is known to have taken inspiration from his traditions and showcase it in his designs to the rest of the world with his personal touch to them as a form of his homage. 

In a world of creative freedom, Ban chooses his architecture to be remembered for the people. In his talk at the Roca Barcelona Gallery in 2019, he mentions how disappointed he was to find out the clients of architecture were mostly privileged people. He doesn’t disagree with the idea of having privileged clients but encourages the field of architecture to direct and improve the living conditions of the public given a chance. 

The 37th Pritzker prize winner to this day ensures his work is essential to make a difference in the lives of the people that experience it than profit, through his NGO, VAN, Voluntary Architects Network, playing an important role to elevate the distress of people who experienced natural disasters and providing them with temporary housing solutions. 

Shigeru And His Style In Structures

Recognized in many forms, Ban’s style of architecture is often described as ‘humanitarian’ or ‘social’, to add this, another important philosophy he stands by in his creations is to reduce waste, to reuse, and to take into consideration recyclability of the materials he uses in his structures. His style of architecture is the one that leaves impressions in the context it sits in rather than debris after. 

Cardboard Cathedral by Shigeru Ban: A Ray of Hope -Sheet1
Cardboard Cathedral-Shigeru Ban, Nobuyoshi, A., 2019, Tokyo_© https://www.nytimes.com

Although the architect is now an influencer himself, Ban often talks of the ones that influenced him. Apart from Japanese traditional design, John Hejduk was the first of many to set in motion the notion of ‘architectonic poetry’, an exploration into basic geometric elements in a design, which is observed in the architects’ style even today. Alvar Aalto, the Finnish architect, remains another great influence on Ban in how his architecture effectively communicates to the locals and their needs and provides problem-solving solutions with the limitations they face (Ban, 2019 and The Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2014).

Materiality and Manpower

Ban ensures his materials are local and always have the least amount of waste upon destruction. It seems so strange that in a world where creations are made with a sense of permanence, Ban’s temporary creations, which are made to be temporary, leave lasting traces of permanence in their users. Most of Ban’s temporary structures are made with collaboration and collectiveness from the local people and often with his students.

Architecture in response to disasters has allowed Ban in refining his materials and their usage. From creating fireproof and waterproof papers as skins to using paper tubes as structure, plastic bottle trays as foundations, the architect uses his simple and brilliant ideas to prevent the man-made disaster that follows a natural one. Of his works, the one that stands of historical and communal importance is Christchurch in New Zealand which gained a lot of fame.

Cardboard Cathedral

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Cardboard Cathedral-Church damaged in the earthquake_© http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com

Otherwise formally called a ‘transitional cathedral’, was originally a hundred and thirty-one-year-old Church of St. John the Baptist, which was destroyed in the 2011 February 22nd Earthquake. This was then given to Shigeru Ban to re-design by the Reverend Craig Dixon, for the commission of a temporary structure to house concerts and civic events (Barrie. A., 2013). 

Ban took this pro-bono project in collaboration with Warren and Mahoney and led its design, construction, and the reopen on 2013 August 2nd for its blessing, as a part of Christchurch, after a lot of legal and religious issues which delayed the construction.  

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Cardboard Cathedral-Geometry of the plans and elevations_© https://inhabitat.com

For the development of the concept of redesigning the church, Ban studied geometry in the old plans and elevations of the church and took its golden ratio and simple geometry as the established layer upon which other design decisions were made about the needs of the Anglican community.

The main material used, as the name suggests, is cardboard tubes which were placed with slight gaps in between them to allow light into the church, wood, and steel making up the skeleton of the church with the concrete slab as the foundation. Polycarbonate was used for roofs and shipping containers made up the walls. The two main elements of the church were the cross, made of cardboard tubes, and the rose window, made of triangular pieces of stained glass (Writer, S. 2014). 

The construction was carried out by the local community with the help of his students as well. Although they faced a few delays to achieve this structure, it opened to the public after a few days for its grand opening in August 2013.

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Cardboard Cathedral_©http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com

With the seating capacity of seven hundred people, this temporary structure still stands and functions with all its intents and purposes for which it was designed. This temporary monument was created with the idea of producing the least amount of waste on its replacement in its future. 

Ban’s creation of such iconic architecture with as minimal waste as possible, leaves one to wonder if being physically sustainable in design is more than just a statement. What we as architects should be designing is, in fact, to attain social sustainability as well. 


Ban, S, 2019, jumpthegap®(talk), Roca Barcelona Gallery, “Architectural works and humanitarian activities” – Shigeru Ban (2019). Available at: https://www.jumpthegap.net/talks/architectural-works-and-humanitarian-activities-shigeru-ban (Accessed: 19 August 2021).

Barrie. A., 2013, Shigeru Ban and the Cardboard Cathedral. Available at: https://architectureau.com/articles/christchurch-transitional-cardboard-cathedral-1/ (Accessed: 22 August 2021).

The Pritzker Architecture Prize (2014), ©2021 The Hyatt Foundation, Available at: https://www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/2014 (Accessed: 21 August 2021).

Writer, S. 2014 Designing For Disaster- Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard CathedralThe Urban Developer. Available at: https://www.theurbandeveloper.com/articles/designing-for-disaster-shigeru-bans-cardboard-cathedral (Accessed: 23 August 2021).


Keerthi Priya Ramineni, currently lives in Australia, having finished her master’s degree in Architecture she's finding a way to combine the passion she has for words and her interest in architecture.