City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

One of the big How Buildings Learn lessons is about the importance of maintenance. Two asides on the matter spotted in the last two editions of The Guardian. First up, in a profile on the brilliant Japanese architect Shigeru Ban:

“The idea of building with paper seems riddled with problems – it is flammable, vulnerable to water, weak and temporary, but Ban turns all these arguments upside down: “How long do you think concrete lasts? It has many problems and it’s very difficult to replace or fix. If a paper tube is damaged it can be replaced by a new one. The lifespan of a building has nothing to do with the materials. It depends on what people do with it. If a building is loved, then it becomes permanent. When it is not loved, even a concrete building can be temporary.”

Shigeru Ban profiled in The Guardian

And in an important article on British workplace design, Jonathan Glancey notes:

“(F)ar too many new office buildings depend on complex heating, lighting and ventilation systems to cope with the fundamental inadequacies, or wrong-headedness, of their architecture. It does seem nuts in a country like ours, with a generally mild climate, to spend so much on air-conditioning and other bits of kit all but guaranteed not to be cleaned or otherwise maintained properly. Maintenance is deeply unfashionable in our neophiliac culture, where anything old is considered boring, best ignored, and preferably discarded altogether. Our new office buildings are reflections of who we are and what we want.”

(More on this article later.)

Perhaps with innovative, inspirational architects like Shigeru Ban involved in building projects (albeit not in paper in his satellite Pompidou in Metz) we can find a sneaky way to creatively force a return to maintenance in front of the neophiliac culture Glancey describes …


6 responses to “Paper buildings force the return of maintenance?”

  1. Alan Morrissey Avatar
    Alan Morrissey

    Interesting Piece about Shigeru Ban. I spent 18 months of my Architectural Diploma researching paper based architecture as a basis for sustainable community development, and you’re right, there are infinite possibilities for this cheap, easily produced and readily available material. Your article hits on an interesting theme in architecture though, and one that I have and continue to wrestle with on a daily basis, the idea of permanency in architecture. It seems that architecture can only be veiwed as permanent if it is constructed from heavy, dense, inert materials such as concrete and steel, but suggest paper, cardboard and other ‘non – traditional’ materials and everyone gets panicky! Never mind the fact that paper can be recycled much more quickly and cheaply than other materials, and can be constructed to form complex structural geometries in a quarter of the time of other materials, but still this rationale is not good enough. I think that with experimantation comes a necessity for bravery, and the ability to realise that paper buildings are mot made from folded sheets of A4 stood on edge. The culture of place perhaps demands solidity, but the chance to create environments in permanent motion, now that’s worth believing in! Good Luck Shigeru!


  2. lewis Avatar

    The Ise Shrine in Japan I think gets rebuilt every 20 years although established over 1500 years ago. It might be that Japan with its timber and paper architecture has a different view of permanence & therefore perhaps also authentisity than we do often. Shigeru Ban may be actually continuing a long Japaneese tradition, and the quote you picked out that when a building is loved then it becomes permanent seems to confirm it. You are also dead right that this attitude could really do something positive in our current culture.


  3. no, 2 self Avatar

    Back in the RSS

    I’m back in the saddle after a little time away from work and information technology. The office is a little quieter than usual at the moment; partly due to a touch of autumnal melancholy, partly due to the fact that we’re a man down. My colleagu


  4. Monkeymagic Avatar

    Lovingly building processes to last

    On a possible link between a Japanese architect who build with paper tubes and process


  5. rich_w Avatar

    On office maintenance, there is at least one “all users” email per day at work that informs everyone of some maintenance or other going on in the building in which I work.
    Ostensibly, this is to ensure the security of the building isn’t compromised. But it appears to have an equal and opposite reaction from everyone in the building.
    First, far from making everyone feel that the building is being looked after and maintained – which in fact it is – every office worker simply moans that the building is so rubbish and poorly suited to its purpose that the constant presence of maintenance is felt to the the only way of keeping the building in some sort of working state. This complaint is exacerbated by, for example, the heating coming on one day after the weather became cold (though that was human error and not the fault of the building, of course).
    On the other hand, however, it has made the ritual of maintenance a fascinating one and of which nearly everyone is aware. I’d be lost without the daily who-is-doing-what-to-the-building email, since it would feel like no one really cared. I know other colleagues feel the same and highlights, to me at least, that the building in which I work – and its maintenance – is something people care and are interested about.
    Thus, the maintenance of the Council offices – built in the 1960s – is both a source of delight and neglect. I wonder whether this is typical only of Council offices?


  6. Monkeymagic Avatar

    Trackback: Lovingly building processes to last from Monkeymagic: “On a possible link between a Japanese architect who build with paper tubes and process” [Read More]


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