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Between permanence and transience

After the major earthquake disaster we experienced this year, just like in 1999, we had the opportunity to ask our questions to Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who came to our country following the disaster, gave a conference at METU Faculty of Architecture and realized the Paper Log House project in Hatay through the initiative and collaboration of Mozaik Design

Interview: Selin Çiftci

Shigeru Ban, Photograph: Gökhan Göktaş

You use architecture as a tool for post-disaster solutions, rather than emphasizing comfort brought by the star architecture approach. How did the story of centering social responsibility in your architectural practice begin? How do you position your architectural practice?

Since I became an architect, I have always felt that architects should be more supportive of the socially vulnerable, and the 1994 Rwandan Civil War and the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake were the first opportunities for me to be involved in refugee assistance or disaster relief activities.

I find your approach to be very strong and innovative in resisting the desire of architects to create permanent structures. This approach gives architects a social mission while bringing different priorities to architecture, as opposed to modernist architecture. How do you relate the concepts of temporality and permanence?

Everyone has the desire to build permanent structures and repeating the cycle of demolishing old buildings and building new ones. Even buildings that are structurally sound are often easily demolished. On the other hand, even if a building is constructed as a temporary structure, it can become "permanent" as long as there is will and love to use and maintain the building. In this sense, permanence in architecture is not simply a matter of being structurally strong.

Shigeru Ban & ODTU Faculty of Architecture students at the opening of Paper Log House.

We experienced a terrible disaster. After the earthquake, you held a conference at the ODTU Faculty of Architecture and inaugurated The Paper Log House. How did this collaboration come about? What are the outputs?

We received a lot of email requests for collaboration with us. Urban Design Studio from ODTU was one of them, and they first asked us how to provide thousands of tents to the affected areas. We discussed that these supply for thousands of tents should be covered by large organization, and turned our attention to find what we can do for the people who lost their houses, even in a small quantity. That is the start of our work together.


"...Even if a building is constructed as a temporary structure, it can become 'permanent' as long as there is will and love to use and maintain the building. In this sense, permanence in architecture is not simply a matter of being structurally strong."


The Paper Log House project process

You have produced solutions in different cultures, climates, and social structures around the world. This diversity requires the projects to be localized and site-specific. Standardized production, such as prefabrication, cannot respond to this specificity. How do you achieve this localization? Does this material provides you enough time to create it? What makes the paper log material different from others?

I saw many container-type temporary housing units around Antakya this time. As in the temporary housing in Japan, the more they try to supply large numbers of temporary housing units, the lower the living conditions tend to be. From this disaster, a large amount of temporary housing is required, so it is undeniable that this type of housing is inevitable. On the other hand, by using locally available materials, it is possible to supply housing that suits local characteristics. Paper tubes could also be produced in Turkey, and thus were are readily available for The Paper Log House.

How does the system work in the social projects you carry out in other countries? Do you make recommendations or are you invited by government mechanisms or local administrations?

We receive many requests when a big natural disaster strikes, but first we try to go to the affected area to see it with my own eyes. When you go to the disaster area, you can meet local universities and architects who can support or collaborate together.

Shigeru Ban at the meeting at METU Faculty of Architecture

You also participated in temporary space solutions in Turkey after the 1999 earthquake. Now you are here again. We are accustomed to discussing and talking about the solutions and innovations in Japan after each earthquake on TV shows, but it is clear that we have not shown much change or improvement in this regard. However, I want to ask you about change. After 24 years, while you are working on post-disaster solutions in this country again, what changes have you observed in the operation, system, and social mechanisms? Did you face any difficulties?

It seems to me that the last time, we built temporary housing in a slightly more unrestricted atmosphere. After 24 years, I could feel that this country has made significant economic development and at the same time the social system has become more solid..

We experienced an earthquake and are now trying to heal our wounds. From an analytical perspective, what are the most important things to consider in the construction of buildings in that region from now on? What are your observations?

Since the earthquake was such a big scale, I think it is important to think about how to plan for reconstruction. Buildings that meet earthquake resistance standards will be rebuilt in the near future, but I also think these new buildings or towns should not be or feel completely different from what it was before the earthquake. It should make people feel that they have rebuilt their home town.

In your opinion, is this disaster caused by nature, "man", or the system? Is it correct to call this a natural disaster?

Although earthquakes are caused by nature, we consider this damage to be comprehensive, as much of the damage was caused by the collapse of structures built by people.


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