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Shigeru Ban

Lawrence King, 2000. 176pp. £25

Shigeru Ban shot to world-wide fame with his extraordinary cardboard-tube vault at the Hanover Expo 2000 (see picture) and at the age of 43 has completed more buildings than many architects manage in a life-time, writes Richard Weston . Well versed in Western ways, having studied at Sci-Arc and the Cooper Union, he is seeking a synthesis of international/Modernist and traditional Japanese ideas.

His widely published Curtain Wall House is wittily literal, its spaces enclosed, during summer at least, by billowing two-storey curtains; the Furniture Houses replace structure and partitions with storage walls; and the Wall-Less House takes the Miesian almost-nothing ideal to its limits by treating the bathroom fittings as sculptural elements of a continuous space (with, admittedly, sliding partitions for privacy).

At first sight the paper structures might belong to another architect's oeuvre. The first permanent one - a Paper House - was approved in 1995, and a church, library, design studio and large-span sheds followed. Some use the tubes like traditional, lashed-together bamboo, others set them running to form undulating walls reminiscent of Aalto's 1938 Exhibition Pavilion in Lapua. All are undeniably inventive, developing from a fascination which goes back to Ban's schooldays.

In his brief foreword, Emilio Ambasz suggests that both strands of the work are underpinned by an ethical concern to 'make the most out of very little' . This is clearly borne out by the cardboardtube-structure emergency shelters for Rwanda, less obviously so by the clinical purity of the more conventional buildings - aesthetic and actual economy of means all too rarely co-existing.

Unfortunately, the book is of little help in permitting a more informed judgement. The texts are perfunctory, there are too few drawings and, stripped of most hints of habitation, some of the photographs could almost be computer renderings. Despite these shortcomings it is valuable, for Ban is a designer of conspicuous talent.

Richard Weston is professor at the Welsh School of Architecture

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