Humanitarian Architecture, edited by Mary Christian
Aspen Art Press ⁄ DAP (hardcover, 280 pages)
Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is celebrated for devoting equal attention to his major commissions, such as the Centre Pompidou-Metz, as he does to humanitarian relief structures. This book, a catalogue to accompany an exhibition at the Ban-designed Aspen Art Museum, delivers a guided tour of the mind behind some of the world’s most inventive responses to disaster.
A Q&A with Brad Pitt and essays by architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, design writer Naomi Pollock and others introduce Ban’s evolution as an architect through a turning point in 1994, when he offered his services to the UN High Commission for Refugees. His goal: to supply survivors of the Rwandan genocide with a shelter that was more comfortable, dignified and practical than the usual plastic sheeting. From there, the texts chart some of the design innovations he has brought to the field since.
While it would have been interesting to know more about Ban’s process for consulting the people who use his structures, the bulk of the book is given over to sensitive treatment of the shelters themselves, which is where it really shines. The projects documented include the Paper Log House, designed for survivors of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan; a paper church to accompany the Log House; and the post–Hurricane Katrina dwelling he designed in collaboration with Brad Pitt’s Make It Right project, in New Orleans in 2009.
By focusing on Ban’s designs for those who “haven’t had the voice to ask for them,” Humanitarian Architecture provides inspiration for those who believe that thoughtful design, equal parts compassion and concept, contributes in powerful ways toward the greater good.
Reviewer Rachel Pulfer is the executive director (now on maternity leave) of Journalists for Human Rights, and an Azure contributing editor.