Shigeru Ban


Shigeru Ban is a well-known Japanese architect, recognised for his innovative execution of paper, specifically recycled cardboard tubes, which can be used quickly and effectively to shelter victims who have suffered from disasters. It is known that Ban demonstrated excellent results in arts and crafts during the primary and junior high school. He designed the best house model for an assignment in the 9th grade. Afterwards Shigeru decided to become an architect. The facts show that Ban was acknowledged as the 37th receiver of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2014 for his innovative utilisation of material and his engagement in humanitarian attempts around the globe. The paper will demonstrate Ban’s three projects in which he utilises research methods of physical prototyping and model making to underpin and develop his architectural design practice.

A physical prototype is known to be a real world object. A physical prototype is created from real materials, including metal, wood, foam and clay (Crouch & Pearce 2012). The research method of physical prototyping incorporates the construction and testing of a physical prototype. Generally speaking, the methods of physical prototyping can be divided into three categories, including hand creation, mechanic processing and computer-assisted prototyping. Physical prototyping performs a highly significant function in the product and process development, being a conventional design approach. The facts demonstrate that this method endures a simultaneous, time-focused approach and makes contribution to the cooperation of people from various backgrounds (Downton 2003). Nevertheless, physical prototyping is known to be a time-consuming and expensive task (Fraser 2013). The main objective of this research method is typically to objectify design hypotheses, measure and probe functions and perception of the new design and evoke the market feedback before starting the production process (Crouch & Pearce 2012).

Forest Park Pavilion Project

Forest Park Pavilion in St. Louis is a non-constructed project by Shigeru Ban, which has a prototype in Rice University (Jodidio & Ban 2010). The designer has utilised physical prototyping research method for designing the project. The prototype analysis demonstrates that Forest Park Pavilion in St. Louis will equip a unique, functional and integrated location into existing context (Hook 2015). The single story structure is designed as diversified in height from 13 to 25 feet, incorporating flooring, columns, and a reciprocal grid shell, which have to be covered with a semitransparent water-right membrane (Gerber & Patterson 2013). The reciprocal grid shell roof is unusual in structure, especially in utilising the best of computer technology and newly engineered bamboo lumber, which assists in creating a flowing and constitutional form and at the same time encompasses sustainable design principles (Jodidio 2009). The roof hangs in the form of a floating cloud above the tree-similar columns (Jodidio & Ban 2010). The pragmatic utilisation of the pavilion is versatile and will serve a wide variety of various educational and recreational purposes (Crouch & Pearce 2012). The Forest Park Pavilion appears as a prototype installation on the Rice University campus in the form of 36’ x 36’ undulatory awning of interlaced bamboo boards (Liang, Yan, Li & Guo 2011). Sets of four boards are overlapped in a spiralling pinwheel conjugation, and various directions of the overlapping outcomes form a bending. The design of pinwheel conjugations generates a specific pattern of huge and small squares, and shapes an incurvate or bulging geometry ultimately forming a shell structure (also known as grid shell). The awning is sustained by columns created from packed steel pillars (Mohamed 2013). Eight pillars are set in a stellar design and connected to inlay salves on the awning. The steel pillars are limited at the centre by a high-aptitude pawl tie, whose additional weight is appended to the whole structure by haltering bagging bellows stuffed with gravel in order to strengthen the structure against the uplift effects (Jodidio & Ban 2010). 

The performance of a structural system might frequently oppose the designer’s vision of form and pattern. This is specifically true regarding common and alternate assemblies, in which cross-section dimension is highly crucial for both the evolvement of the surface bending and the implementation of discreet constituents in curvature (Mohamed 2013). The facts show that the design for the Forest Park Pavilion has been initially developed as an adaptive re-scaling of traditional Japanese netting technique utilising intermittent material lengths (Zhang & Wang 2011). Nevertheless, the length restriction of laminated bamboo provoked a supplementary segmentation of the tectonic system (Mohamed 2013), resulting in the effective quadrilateral reciprocal-framed grid. Thus, the research method of physical prototyping allowed the designer to utilise the reciprocal pattern due to the restricted options in the selected building material (Liang et al. 2011). The awning structure has to be made from 8-foot boards, equable in length and the connection locus. Variation in bending has been designed through the lap boards’ pattern in adjoining cells. The prototype method allows demonstrating that consecutive overlapping generated locations with the positive Gaussian bending (curved inward/curved outward,), while at the same time an alternating lap pattern results in transitional locations of zero Gaussian bending (cylindrical). The facts reveal that the full-scale pavilion has not been constructed yet, but a half-sized experimental prototype structure has been authorised and constructed at Rice University in 2002 (Liang et al. 2011). The prototype project utilises 4-foot lengths of the analogous laminated bamboo material, sized according to its designed width and thickness. The research method of physical prototyping allows inferring two significant geometric restrictions (Jodidio 2009). Firstly, the research method demonstrates that the connection between shallow bending and thin material can be regarded as a stiff one, being structurally illogical (Jodidio 2009). When a grid frame becomes less convex, the elements appear heavier to sustain the moment the forces are lodged by adjacent constituents. Therefore, in order to surpass this restriction, a more complicated juncture is required (Jodidio 2009). This fact undermines the plainness and modularity of the project, which has been specifically selected for a compound grid assembly (Jodidio & Ban 2010). Therefore, the method allowed the designer to account for the above-mentioned structural drawback in the overlapping structure by supporting it on broadly disseminated columns and diminishing the allocated forces on single elements (Jodidio & Ban 2010). Moreover, the aesthetic structural components of the project enhance the lighting quality of the space and the prototype itself (Crouch & Pearce 2012). The project is characterised by efficient environmental performance, which is combined with a sensual light quality (Jodidio & Ban 2010). This project is designed to sustain the environment, providing unique ecosystem in a semi-sheltered environment, which is protected from the sun and severe weather. Secondly, the research method of physical prototyping allows observing that the variation in bending approachable in an equable-length assembly is stiffly outlined by the material length and thickness parameters. In addition, the research method provides the possibility to see that it is impossible to enlarge the pattern more than a few cells from the centre of bending prior to distortion inception (Jodidio 2009). Observation of the geodetic subsection of a cube as it approximates the sphere geometry vividly reveals that absence of the difference in the lengths of elements makes it impossible to continue the pattern around a convex surface. The evasion in bending observed in the pavilion roof is not merely an aesthetic design decision, but a required reaction to the modular construction technique. This process is similar to stretching a woven material over a domical surface (Jodidio & Ban 2010). It practically means that the pattern of the woven material will deform comfortably to a particular point, but later the crease will appear as necessary. Due to the fact that creasing is not an option for the current design, the structure can either end, or as in this case, the bending can overturn, starting the deforming and distortion process again in reverse (Bosia 2011). It is an example of a typical constraints confluence, which actually generates the specific form of the project and the research method can be applied to demonstrate the connection between tectonics and overall form in a grid assembly (Bosia 2011). This method was effectively used by designer to analyse the limit of a specific modular system, outlined by material properties and unit dimensions (Burns & Kahn 2005).

On the other hand, there is another architectural research method, known as model-making. An architectural model is known to be a specific kind of scale model, meaning a material structure delineation, which is created in order to analyse the facets of an architectural design, or to represent and explain the design idea and concept (Fraser 2013). The purpose of the architectural design defines the type of a model, which can be constructed in a large scale and from a broad range of materials, incorporating paper, blocks, and wood. Model making research method allows understanding the interplay of volumes, and cognise the overall look of the project from discrepant angles (Lidwell, Holden & Butler 2010). This method is also highly useful for clarifying a complex or untypical design to the building team (Plowright 2014).

Centre Pompidou-Metz Project

The Centre Pompidou-Metz is the second project of Shigeru Ban, which will be analysed in the paper. The architect utilised the research method of model making for this project. The project was completed in May of 2010 (Amann 2010). 

The main focus of the model was to meticulously, clearly and accurately reconstitute and analyse the timber-netting, roof-awning, structural tower (also referred to as spire), timber-metal conjunctions and Glulam pin and to place the eight foundation pillars set at two of the initial piers, schematising one of these conjugations as a cutting-out section detail (Jodidio 2009). The facts demonstrate that three corbels have been superficially modelled in the form of ordinary boxes and merely indicated the glazing so as to equip a superficial contexture to locate the awning, tower and concrete pieces (Amann 2010). This design presupposed that the museum lights were to glow through the roof demonstrating the elaborately constructed timber mesh roof. Generally speaking, the design demonstrated the specific light should penetrate through the poly-tetra-fluoro-ethylene white roof awning, which would allow letting natural daylight into the gallery space below (Jodidio 2009). Moreover, the galleries have been specifically designed to poke out from the roof in order to see the view of the city and provide additional daylight to the construction (Jodidio et al. 2008).  In addition, the hinge wall system has been disdained in the model due to the fact that it is structurally independent of the awning and would not develop the serenity of the model or equip beneficial contexture or scale (Jodidio 2009).

The model-making research method shows the model as the wood awning structure in the form of a genuine designing of a three-axle hexagonal grid above a bending surface. The timber structure incorporates about 1,800 Computer Numerical Control (CNC)-milled Glulam girder sections that are designed using an advanced parametric model (Amann 2010). Despite the fact that digital modelling was significant for the geometry and production of individual elements, the shape of the roof was not defined by a digital model (Jodidio et al. 2008). The roof was created by collecting vividly outlined boundary settings, including the stance of the roof’s edge, the angle and stance of the column conjunctions, and the placement of the uniform zones (Jodidio 2009). Thus, the model-making demonstrates that the projected roof is outlined by a structured hexagon, replicating the entanglement of the structural grid at the augmented angle (Jodidio 2009). Moreover, the model making has been also applied in order to determine and design a shape of the roof, in which the scope basswood pieces would be organised in order to suit the compound surface (Jodidio et al. 2008).

When creating the model, architect used all the methods, which were supposed to be implemented during the actual construction of the physical project in order to analyse the manufacturing and safety issue (Amann 2010). Therefore, purified basswood pieces (one-eighth inch on the long axle) were drenched in cold water for a few days in order to emolliate the wood fibbers and enhance the elasticity of the wood, both across the long and short axles so as to adjust them to ultimate double-bending (Jodidio & Ban 2010). Then, the pieces were separately sliced, sanded and pasted into their specific location, layer by layer. Generally speaking, six layers of basswood pieces were sliced and shaped into the designed geometry, while three layers of wood spacers were pasted into the netting (Fleming, Smith & Ramage 2014). Finally, basswood cornice was pasted and clutched above the edge setting and the model was thoroughly sanded in order to smooth some of the unequal bending (Jodidio et al. 2008). The method of the model-making process is highly similar to the creation of the full-scale project, congregated layer by layer and fixed with specific pin ligaments (Amann 2010). The whole model was hand-crafted (Gerber & Patterson 2013).

This model presents merely a section, which accounts for one fourth of the timber roof awning. It consists of two piers, which face the project’s major entry and cover the spire ligament (Amann 2010). This model helped the architect to investigate the formal, methodological and technical development of the project’s surface (Jodidio 2009). Taking into account the scale of the model, some details of the structural ligaments have been suitably compressed. Generally speaking, pins, which have been located at each junction of the awning, have been aggravated with glue instead of final project doweling of pre-stressed ligaments (Lidwell, Holden & Butler 2010).

The research method of model-making is highly significant for structural representation and methodological accuracy, as they define the fundamental architectural cognition of the Centre Pompidou-Metz (Gerber & Patterson 2013). The model is aimed at summarising these processes and analysing the formal and structural complicacies of the project in a manner, which expounds the interconnection between structural details, modular deformation and architectural impact (Lidwell, Holden & Butler 2010). The analysis of this project vividly demonstrates that the process of model making and digital modelling seriously assists in evolving a practical approach to structural analysis. This analysis serves as an implement to amplify structurally systemic and architecturally concurrent interpretations of the Centre Pompidou-Metz (Jodidio et al. 2008). Centre Pompidou-Metz appears as a bright and luminous construction, which is simultaneously strong and light. The architecture of the Centre Pompidou-Metz meets environmental calibre and sustainable development standard due to the fact that it is coherent with the urban redevelopment program (Amann 2010).

Cardboard Cathedral Project

The third project for analysis incorporates the Cardboard Cathedral, which has also been carried out through the research method of model-making.  This project vividly demonstrates that one of the most significant constituents of Ban’s works is related to his “invisible structure” (Gerber & Patterson 2013). The architect does not demonstrate a tendency of openly expressing the structural constituents, as he attempts to incorporate them into the project. The Cardboard Cathedral is known to be a 24-meters high project with a specific A-frame style (Lidwell, Holden & Butler 2010). It was constructed on the basis of St John’s Parish Church, ruined after irreversible damage caused by the earthquakes. It incorporates 86 cardboard tubes, each of which weights approximately 500 kg. These tubes are covered with water-right polyurethane and flame moderator. The architect also used a polycarbonate roof and a rigid concrete floor, which corroborate the temporary structure of the cathedral (Philp 2014). The project is also characterised by another distinctive feature that is the north-facing Trinity Window aloft the main entry, which is created from coloured glass triangles illustrating images taken from the original rose of the cathedral’s window (Jodidio et al. 2008).

This design actually esteems the geometry of the original Cathedral aisle and scope. It is created on the basis of an original beautiful shape (Gerber & Patterson 2013). The A-Frame has been chosen for the project, due to the fact that it is a usual economical shape to construct (Hook 2015). The whole structure is covered with a bright polycarbonate, which allows light to leak in the cathedral and sparkle out of it. The architect analysed numerous locations in order to achieve the suggested lightweight (Daniell 2013). While utilising the model-making approach, the architect defined two important facets, including design and program. The design facet suggested that the form of the structure had to sustain the same. At the same time, the architect insisted on required alterations of the calibre requirements, which would help achieve the endurance and durability necessary for a permanent structure (Daniell 2013). On the other hand, the program suggested that the chosen geotechnical setting could seriously influence the construction project, thus, the quality requirements ought to be reinforced. A manufacturing supplier produced the cardboard stalks locally (Barrie 2014). This supplier did not have any experience in manufacturing this scope or calibre of the product (Daniell 2013). This asked for the investment in the factory plant and resources, incorporating the product trial. The architect reviewed all the risks during the model-making process (Barrie 2014). These hazards incorporated fire execution, moisture fabrication and construction penetration, long range endurance and maintenance issues. The risk plan section of the model-making defined particular weakening and helped develop an approach for analysing, testing, investigating and designing the product including the process of installation (Fleming et al. 2014). Shigeru Ban himself equipped the experience and gave advice concerning the product usage. Initial fire tests have been undertaken on the cardboard cores prior to model creation, and demonstrated that the material was analogous to timber (Fleming et al. 2014). The cardboard cores have been produced utilising high-solidity paper for addition vigour and incorporated a polyethylene inner liner, being cut spirally with shed water overlays (Fleming et al. 2014). The manufacturing was finished in an off-location storehouse in order to lower the possible damage from weather subjection. The general model and esteem to the Christ Church Cathedral scope resulted in an alluring glaring roof model, which ascended along the construction margin (Daniell 2013). Despite the fact that the model had a simple shape, it extorted each separate rafter to bend and changed the angle along the major ‘spine’ of the construction (Barrie 2014). This practically presupposed that all of the constituents had to be different, as each ligament location, binding constituents, rafters and purling had to be located at an angle along discrepant horizontal, vertical and height planes in space (Amann 2010). The additional complicacy hazard presented time and calibre hazards (Amann 2010). This presupposed that construction model-making methodology had to suggest and inform design decisions, while design model had to be tailored to suit the suggested approach on the selected location. The architect utilised 3D modelling in order to create and design each single ligament and junction (Amann 2010). The model-making was also utilised to define clashing, and determine complex locations, which required extra methodology or design development (Amann 2010). Moreover, model-making also assisted in securing scopes for obtaining long-range time binding constituents (Crouch & Pearce 2012). The model-making approach was undertaken for the façade, structural and fire engineering facets. Generally speaking, the Cathedral has been outlined as an Importance Level 3 construction as a result of the proposed capability and thus, demonstrated particular design requirements to be taken into account for the model-making and project designing (Barrie 2014).


The current paper analysed three projects by Shigeru Ban, two of which utilised the research method of model-making and one of which used the research method of physical prototyping. Physical prototyping research allowed the architect to develop his product and facilitate the process evolvement. This method endures a simultaneous, time-focused approach and contribution based on the cooperation of people from various backgrounds and professions. On the other hand, the research method of model-making allowed the architect to understand the interplay of his project volumes, at the same time cognising the overall look of his project from different angles. This method appeared as highly useful in demonstrating and clarifying a complex and untypical design to the building team and material manufacturers.

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