Japanese architect wins top Pritzker award

TOKYO - Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who uses cardboard tubes to make temporary housing for victims of natural disasters and refugees fleeing violence, has won his field's highest honour, the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Award sponsor The Hyatt Foundation said Monday that it had chosen the 56-year-old architect, who has offices in Tokyo, Paris and New York, as its 2014 laureate.

Ban, who works in disaster zones and with private clients, has spent about two decades travelling the world to help design low-cost but dignified housing and community buildings in hard-hit areas, the foundation said in a statement.

"Shigeru Ban's commitment to humanitarian causes through his disaster relief work is an example for all. Innovation is not limited by building type and compassion is not limited by budget," said foundation head Tom Pritzker. "Shigeru has made our world a better place."

Ban said the award was "a great honour," according the statement.

"And with it, I must be careful. I must continue to listen to the people I work for, in my private residential commissions and in my disaster relief work," he was quoted as saying.

"I see this prize as encouragement for me to keep doing what I am doing - not to change what I am doing, but to grow."

The foundation highlighted Ban's frequent use of locally-sourced cardboard tubes for columns, walls and beams, noting the recyclable material was easy to mount and dismantle. It can also be made flame-resistant and water-proofed.

Bank uses other unconventional building materials including bamboo, fabrics, and composites of recycled paper fibre and plastics.

His best-known works included a paper cathedral in Christchurch in New Zealand and temporary housing in Japan following the 2011 quake-tsunami disaster The architect was born in Tokyo to a Toyota employee father and a mother who was a haute couture designer.

He attended architecture school first at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and earned his bachelor's degree in architecture from Cooper Union in New York City in 1984.

It was the second straight year that a Japanese winner took architecture's highest honour.

The 2013 winner was Toyo Ito, who has designed many innovative homes and public buildings in his native country.

Ban will receive a US$100,000 (S$127,000) grant and a bronze medallion at the formal awards ceremony in Amsterdam in June.