British Columbia·Photos

Life-saving paper emergency shelter showcased at Vancouver Art Gallery

A full-size replica of Shigeru Ban's famous disaster relief shelter — made of paper, cardboard and plywood — is part of a new exhibit named after the famous Japanese architect.

Full-size replica of Shigeru Ban's relief shelter — made of paper, cardboard and plywood — part of new exhibit

Vancouver Art Gallery curator Bruce Grenville stands in front of the full-size replica of Shigeru Ban's Kobe Paper Log House. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

In the shadows of Vancouver's tall skyscrapers sits a small paper log house, one that was originally designed for the sole purpose of providing shelter in the wake of a natural disaster.

It's a sight that reminds Vancouver Art Gallery curator Bruce Grenville that there's not much of a difference between a small hut and a towering high-rise.

"At its root, at its very heart, architecture provides shelter — from the earliest day of building to the present," he said as he stands inside the small shelter.

The paper log house is a full-size replica of Shigeru Ban's Kobe Paper Log House — a 15.8 square-metre hut made from repurposed and reinforced paper, cardboard and plywood.

The paper log houses, shown here in Turkey in 2000, have been utilized to house thousands of displaced families and refugees since they were initially designed in 1995. (Shigeru Ban Architects )

The Japanse architect designed the shelter in 1995 after a 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit the coast of Japan, striking the major port city Kobe.

More than 6,000 people died and 200,000 more were displaced. Ban's temporary huts sheltered thousands of families.

"It was imagined as a temporary shelter, that it would be a shelter that would serve the needs for people as quickly and as cheaply as possible after a disaster," said Grenville.

Ban's design has served as a prototype for disaster and emergency relief shelters in the decades that followed, said Grenville.

The architect is currently working with the United Nations to design new homes for thousands of refugees in Kenya.

The full-size replica of the the paper log house will be on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery through the summer and into the fall. (Hiroyuki Hirai)

The Big One

The exhibit, titled Offsite: Shigeru Ban, alludes to the seemingly inevitable "Big One" — a megathrust earthquake destined to hit the Pacific coast sometime in the future.

The paper log house represents how quickly some people respond to such an extraordinary disaster, and how long it takes for a community to recover.

"You're not going to hurt this building — in some instances, these are buildings that have stood up for several years," said Grenville.

"Disaster relief ... doesn't happen overnight. We may forget about it, but in fact there are people living in those places sometimes for years."

Offsite: Shigeru Ban runs from May 11 to Oct. 8. at the Vancouver Art Gallery

A row of paper log houses in Kobe, Japan were designed by Tokyo-born architect Shigeru Ban. (Takanobu Sakuma/Pritzker Prize/AP)