The Ultimate Culture Guide 2009: S

Shigeru’s Surge

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban made his reputation exploring the lyrical, structural, ecological, and humanitarian potential of cardboard tubes. The 52-year-old architect began experimenting with the half-inch-thick waterproof cylinders in the eighties, initially using them to build a lakeside house in Japan and a studio for Issey Miyake. During Rwanda’s civil war in the early nineties, they took on a whole new life when Ban drafted them into service for a refugee shelter. His innovative paper structures have since been deployed as emergency housing after earthquakes in Japan, Turkey, and India.

It’s not all cardboard for Ban, however. His building materials have ranged from shipping containers to the recycled plastic-and-paper composite he used in a pavilion for the design company Artek, which brought $602,500 at Sotheby’s last June.

For the past several years Ban has been working on his biggest project yet: the first outpost of Paris’s Centre Pompidou, in the eastern French city of Metz. Inspired by the bamboo latticework of traditional Chinese straw hats, Ban designed an undulating tentlike wooden roof structure, covered in a skin of Teflon-coated fiberglass, which shelters three stacked and cantilevered concrete-box galleries. The adventurous $82 million building will open early next year.

Tellingly, Ban has joined the architectural Murderer’s Row that’s sprung up on West 19th Street in Manhattan. His 11-story Metal Shutter Houses, featuring duplex residences with perforated shutters that open completely to the outdoors, sits just down the block from Frank Gehry’s IAC headquarters and Jean Nouvel’s 100 Eleventh Avenue. Though not yet completed, all seven units, including the $10.5 million penthouse, have been sold. Quite a long way from those cardboard shelters.