Six degrees of a Pritzker

You know “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” right? That game that’s supposed to prove that there are only six connections separating every one in the world from the American actor (your sister has a friend who works for the sanitary engineer who was sub-contracted by the builder who works with Kevin Bacon’s architect)?

Shigeru Ban was named last month as this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, for his groundbreaking humanitarian work designing disaster-relief shelters (it’s about time we honored architecture that went beyond breathtaking aesthetics, yes?).

Remember this post I wrote from the Milan Fair two years ago, when Hermes launched Shigeru Ban’s Module H wall cladding? I wrote about calling his office for my first magazine job, and Shigeru Ban sent a package of images addressed to me.

That means I had direct connection with a Pritzker Prize winning architect!

But anyway, seriously, Shigeru Ban is my architectural hero.

I drool at Oscar Niemeyer and Frank Gehry’s designs, but this 57-year-old architect is really the one who has touched lives around the world with his paper shelters. Made from cardboard tubes (think giant versions of the brown paper tube that holds your toilet paper), Ban’s shelters are quick to “construct”, sturdy enough to last three years or longer, and quick to dismantle and recycle. They have housed survivors and volunteers of natural disasters in Kobe (Japan), Haiti, Rwanda, India, China and similar disaster-stricken countries.

The low-key architect has his landmark designs, too, of course, and luxury projects (like Module H).

Congratulations, Mr Shigeru Ban…and man, I wish I had kept that bubble-wrap envelop you sent to me when I was a newbie staff writer at Bluprint.

Shigeru Ban in Haiti

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Paper log house, Kobe, Japan

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Paper church, Kobe, Japan

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Paper Concert Hall, L’Aquila, Italy

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Module H

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All photos, except Module H, courtesy of Pritzker Prize

Another Pritzker for Portugal

Some countries pride themselves in being able to afford a Pritzker Prize-winning architect. Some countries, well, they just make their own. This year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate is 58-year-old Eduardo Souto de Moura, a fairly-under-the-global-radar Modernist.

(The Cinema House, completed in 2003, photographed by Luis Ferreira Alves)

(House in Serra de Arrabida, completed in 2002, photographed by Luis Ferreira Alves)

(The Paula Rego Museum, completed in 2009, photographed by Luis Ferreira Alves)

Jurors praised Souto de Moura’s consistency in his Modernist approach (he’s been referred to as neo-Miesian). He will be conferred architecture’s highest honor for a living architect on June 2 at the Andrew W. Mellon auditorium in Washington DC (what I’d give to be a fly on the wall there!).

At 58, Souto de Moura isn’t the youngest laureate (last year’s winner, Ryue Nishizawa, one-half of SANAA, has that honor, being 44), but he’s probably the most low-key. The bulk of his portfolio is located in Portugal. Although looking at the fact sheet from the Pritzker Architecture Prize it seems Souta de Moura’s career path was directed toward this honor. Wannabe-winners would do well to note that the prolific architect made very good decisions that would bring him to June 2, 2011. He began his career working for the first Portuguese architect honored with a Pritzker laureate, Alvaro Siza; he designed a good balance of residential and civic buildings; he is widely published, and he entered (and won) a lot of design contests.

If that’s not enough, wannabes might want to take a page from another Pritzker Prize-winner’s book (click here) and nominate themselves.

(Images courtesy Pritzker Architecture Prize)

Delighted to meet you, master architect

When designers who are supposed to be making good design accessible to the many speak over the heads of their target market, well, Houston, you know what we’ve got.

It seems a lot of designers and architects are of the “If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your b***s**t” school of thought. We think some are making up for their lack of brilliance by being incomprehensible.

Because really, the true design luminaries are straightforward and speak simply, like Marc Newson (see previous post) and the delightful Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, who we met this week when he launched his newest residential project, Skyline@Orchard.

When Fumihiko-san spoke about his design philisophy, he quoted Vitruvius. He said he always aims for the three elements of architecture that Vitruvius defined: usefulness, strength and – much more than beauty – delight. Walking through the Skyline@Orchard showflat, we saw all function and utility, and were immensely delighted by the simple contemporary Japanese style of the interiors. Strength of the building, of course, remains to be seen as it is not yet built. But Japanese architects know their earthquake-capable design very well, so we’re sure Fumihiko-san’s building will fare well.