The Pritzker Architecture Prize is considered to be the Nobel Prize of architecture. The winners of the prize this year and last year are of particular interest. They are both Japanese, but they have something more important in common.
Toyo Ito, last year’s recipient, is famous for the Sendai Mediatheque, the steel and glass structure that was undamaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake. Last year, he built a shelter for the victims of the earthquake called “House for All.” He mostly used materials that were easily found in the region, such as pine trees uprooted by the earthquake and the tsunami.
This year’s winner, Shigeru Ban, is known as “the paper architect.” Recycled waterproof cardboard pipes are his key materials. He built an emergency refugee shelter during the Rwanda crisis in 1994. For 20 years since then, he has been traveling the world to visit regions in crisis and build shelters. It is meaningful that the Pritzker Architecture Prize has been awarded to the architects interested in helping refugees for two years in a row. The architecture world is giving special attention to its social responsibility. The architects are contemplating how their work can bring consolation to people suffering from natural disasters, major accidents, terrorism and financial crisis.
What everyone really needs to feel encouraged and comforted is pride. When charity is based solely on pity, it hurts even more. The two Japanese architects wish to console and bring cheer while respecting human dignity. The “House for All” is a small yet comfortable dwelling with a terrace. Ban’s shelters are built with cheap paper materials but focus on protecting refugees’ dignity.
This model is desperately needed in Jindo Gymnasium. The family members of the victims are staying in an uncomfortable space, with mats and blankets. They may feel that this is a luxury compared to their children in the cold water. However, the families should be provided with a comfortable place to rest, especially as they deal with tremendous stress and anxiety.
Ban created separate spaces for each family with cardboard pipes and curtains for the victims of the Kobe Earthquake in 1995. In the small yet sensitively designed space, the refugees must have felt that society cared for them.
There was a request for partitions in Jindo Gymnasium, but for some reason, they were not installed. It is truly regrettable. Since the accident was not prevented, the healing should start here. When the vaccines of sincerity and consideration are missing, the virus of despair grows. And so many citizens are already exposed to it.
*The author is an international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 25, Page 31
By LEE HOON-BEOM