SHIGERU BAN

Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is a champion of disaster relief, pioneering the use of temporary paperchip and shipping container shelters, and balancing pro bono projects with commercial work. As an inspiring show at Sydney's Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF) explores his humanitarian structures, we met this maverick talent.

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What's your design philosophy?
Problem-solving. Problems solved by design.

What inspired you to get involved with disaster relief?
I was tired of working for privileged people who had money and power. I like to design monuments, but I was quite disappointed that I was mainly working for privileged people, not the general public. Earthquakes don't kill people, but building materials do. I saw the very poor condition of temporary housing after natural and man-made disasters, and I thought I could improve the condition of these facilities. For me there is no difference between my pro bono and commercial work because I have the same interest and energy for both, and I get the same satisfaction. 

What materials intrigue you?
I use any materials available locally, such as paperchip – not paper by itself – which exists anywhere in the world, and is cheap, strong and lightweight. Even when I was working in Rwanda I found a paperchip factory in the capital Kigali. I'm especially interested in humble materials. If say I used steel, it's a wonderful material, you can do anything with it, but wood and paper have many more limitations. I'm interested in designing with the limitations of the material. Paper is interesting because it's lighter and weaker. I like to take advantage of the weakness of this material to make something different. 

TOP: Japanese architect Shigeru Ban
ABOVE: Ban's Cardboard Cathedral for Christchurch, New Zealand, was built as a community gathering space after the 2011 earthquake devastated the city's historic stone cathedral (see our earlier post). An interactive model of it forms part of Sydney exhibition 'The Inventive Work of Shigeru Ban, SCAF Projects 34 & 35'

What's next for you in terms of disaster relief?
I don't know, I hope I won't be busy! My goal is to make buildings that will be demolished. Shelters that will be dismantled after six months, with materials that can be recycled and reused after, with no waste. The problem is people don't want to move out of my temporary houses, so many of them are becoming permanent!

So is the line blurring between permanent and temporary buildings?
Concrete can be very temporary if developers get rid of it, whereas paper structures can be permanent as long as people love them, like my emergency cathedral for Christchurch. I would like to continue building monuments to be loved by people. Besides, beauty doesn’t come from the kind of material you use, it comes from the proportions. Creating light, shadow, natural ventilation and space between inside and outside are what make living conditions beautiful. 

ABOVE: Two original-scale reproductions of Ban's emergency structures occupy SCAF's Courtyard Garden. His paper log houses for Kobe, Japan (1995), and Ecuador (2016-ongoing) were designed in response to earthquakes and cost around US$2,000 a unit to build. Note the care taken to match the sandbag-filled, donated beer crate bases to the huts

After designing France's Centre Pompidou-Metz in 2010, your Paris concert hall La Scene Musicale was unveiled in April. Tell us more.
It was a former factory site on the Île Seguin. They wanted the design to be a symbol for the western gateway of Paris. I'm not the kind of person to develop unusual shapes. For me it's very challenging to design something iconic and monumental. I made a sail of solar panels, which rotates around a curved timber-clad auditorium, following the sun. Mosaic tiles inside the concert hall change colour from green to red.

What's currently exciting you in design or style?
Nothing new comes out anymore. Generally speaking, architects don't like inventing. People are afraid to be sued. If you do something innovative or experimental you can be sued very easily, especially in the United States. Now everyone's competing with different, funny shapes, which can be created by computer easily. They're interesting, but it's not innovative technology.

Any ideas for a solution to affordable urban housing?
I don't know why this is a problem because there are so many ideas to make affordable housing – as long as developers don't mind making less profit! It's not about creating tiny houses, it's about the construction method. Even with the same space we can make a comfortable house inexpensively. But cities are no longer being designed by urban planners or the government, now commercial developers are leading the way.

ABOVE: Installation details of SCAF's Kobe shelter, which features thick paper tubes for walls, lined with insulation and topped off with tent material; The Ecuador house teams paper tube walls with green-hued bamboo sheets, plus a thatched roof. Both eco-friendly units include toilets, and are easy to dismantle or recycle

Where or how do you find inspiration?
I don't suddenly get inspired by other things. I just continue developing my original ideas to the next stage, little by little. Rather than keeping an eye on cutting-edge trends or magazines, I'm just busy developing my own stuff, as I don't want to be influenced by others.

Who are your design heroes?
Buckminster Fuller and Frei Otto. I like architects who invent their own material or structural system, because I hate to be influenced by the fashionable styles of the day. They both invented their own systems to design things according to the material. I was lucky to collaborate with Otto on my Japan Pavilion for Hanover's Expo 2000 and I learned a lot from him. He always tried to use the minimum material and minimum energy to make maximum space. My favourite architect though is Alvar Aalto. I designed an Aalto exhibition in Tokyo in 1986, but didn't want to waste precious wood for a temporary space. That's when I discovered that paperchip, made of recycled paper which I turned into a tube, was much stronger that I'd expected and inexpensive.

ABOVE: Inside, the SCAF exhibition features scale models, videos, and examples of building joints and partition systems developed by Ban for his temporary shelters; A model details the interior of the emergency cathedral for Christchurch, New Zealand, including bespoke furniture; Another showcases the sinuous roof of Ban's Japan Pavilion for Hanover's Expo 2000, a collaboration with late German architect Frei Otto

Where's on your travel wish list?
I love travelling... to enjoy the local food and wine. That's why I love coming to Australia! I commute every week between Tokyo and Paris, where I have offices. Usually I travel at weekends, so as not to waste the week days.

What should a design fan see in Tokyo?
I would recommend going to Kyoto instead. In Tokyo most of the buildings are designed by big firms, who aren't usually very good architects, so they're boring. It's the same for most major cities, whereas Kyoto has many interesting innovations. It's a more traditional town, and making buildings was so difficult in the past that you needed great ideas and craftsmanship.

What's your social media of choice?
I don't do it at all. Does my office use Instagram? I don't know!
shigerubanarchitects.com  sherman-scaf.org.au

'The Inventive Work of Shigeru Ban' is at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, 16-20 Goodhope Street, Paddington, Sydney until 1 July 2017 (open 11am-5pm, Wednesday to Saturday)

Pictures: Brett Boardman (SCAF)

André Fu AFSO

Andr� Fu 02 copy.jpg

Hong Kong designer André Fu has become synonymous with subtly luxe hotel interiors (you'll never want to leave The Upper House in Hong Kong or Singapore's The Fullerton Bay Hotel). His studio AFSO has created bold, sensuous spaces for art galleries, restaurants and Lane Crawford’s Shoe Library, as well as actress Michelle Yeoh's home. Maison&Objet Asia chose Fu as its 2016 Designer of the Year.

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

How would you describe your design style?
My style has been described as ‘Modern Asian’, yet I would say my design pursuit is driven by modernist, tactile and sensuous aesthetics. 

What’s the secret to creating a gorgeous hotel or hospitality space?
I typically begin a project by travelling to a location and absorbing its dynamics and colours. Another key aspect is to engage in in-depth discussions with the hotelier or owner. I then study the flow of the project and conjure up a series of images that formulates the holistic experience desired.

ABOVE RIGHT: New eau de toilette Fargesia, formulated with perfumer Julian Bedel, takes its cue from bamboo, Sichuan pepper and the emotion of the spaces Fu designs
BELOW:  Fu's interiors for The Fullerton Bay Hotel, Singapore, radiate modern glamour; Tactile materials and sculptural forms create subtle wow factor at Hong Kong's The Upper House

You have a love affair with luxurious but minimal materials, from sensual surfaces to sculpture. What’s your preferred palette?
I love timber for its warmth and versatility. I also use a significant amount of stone in my designs for its tactile quality.

How do you feel about being made Designer of the Year?
Maison&Objet is an important celebration of modern artisanship and the title is a tremendous recognition. I’m participating in two talks – one discussion on my personal career and design philosophy, and my new lifestyle brand AndreFuLiving.com. Another session will focus on the relationship between the hotelier and design architect. I also have a pop-up exhibition showcasing my work, including my hand sketches and large-scale prints for my new perfume. Fargesia is an eau de toilette for the body – the nose is very pure, fresh and crisp. It consists of bamboo, citrus and ginger.

BELOW: The new André Fu Living collection includes a 2015 Assouline book on Fu's work and his calming rugs for Tai Ping

What will your new brand André Fu Living include?
My understanding of the latest evolution in the world of hospitality design is that it gradually demands more profound human sensitivity. As such, I wanted to move into the broader world of lifestyle with the establishment of André Fu Living (AFL). My vision is very much in the spirit of a select shop – an edit of artisanal objects that’s about a journey of discovery, exploration and ultimately collaborations in every sense.

ABOVE: AFSO's zen 'Urban Landscape' installation for fashion brand COS on a Hong Kong pier took inspiration from Asian cities and nature

Where or how do you get inspiration?
My exposure to both the East and West makes me appreciate the fact that lifestyle is not something that can be imposed – it’s derived from culture and all things pure.

Who are your design heroes?
Mies van der Rohe – or the modernist era that explores the purity of lines and forms. It is also an era of significant design evolution that responds to new ways of living.

BELOW: Fu's sleek new 'Skyliner' bathroom fixtures for US brand Cooper & Graham previews at Maison&Objet Asia, including a wall-mounted shower arm with shower rose and thermostatic shower mixer

What’s currently exciting you in design?
The ‘Skyliner’ series, a new collection of bathroom fixtures I have created in collaboration with US brand Cooper & Graham. It is a celebration of the ‘twentieth century modern’ – a collection that is a paradigm of contemporary Asian architecture made of sculptural blocks that juxtapose and interlock. We are previewing key pieces from the collection at Maison&Objet Singapore, from a range of mixer taps to towel rails in a special oil-rubbed bronze finish.

Where’s on your travel wish list? 
Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for Oscar Niemeyer’s modernist architecture.

ABOVE: Hong Kong's mash-up of global influences inspires Fu. We love the city's buzzy PMQ design centre set in the old Police Married Quarters

What’s the Hong Kong design scene like, and do you get inspiration from your hometown?
Hong Kong certainly is a juxtaposition between the East and the West – perhaps this unique setting has allowed the city to have a greater awareness of design in the past few years. My upbringing partially in Asia and also in Europe has allowed me to experience two distinct cultures first-hand and observe lifestyles empowered by history and heritage.

What’s next for you work wise?
We are working with a renowned glass company on a collection to be presented at Salone del Mobile in Milan this April.

What’s your social media of choice?
Kinfolk for upcoming trends and palettes.
afso.net

André Fu is Designer of the Year at Maison&Objet Asia (8-11 March 2016) at Sands Expo and Convention Center, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, where he will launch new brand André Fu Living.