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In 2011, when Japan was rocked by an earthquake and tsunami, Ban first created partitions to help families keep their privacy in shelters like gymnasiums. Then he built, on the grounds of a baseball stadium, a three-story temporary shelter to house 19 families.

After the Kobe earthquake of 1995, he built a “Paper Church” which remained there for 10 years, he said, because of affection for it. Ultimately it was dismantled to make way for a permanent structure and rebuilt in Taiwan as a community center.

“Even a building that is made of paper can permanent, as long as people love it,” he said. “And even a concrete building can be temporary, as we see in earthquakes.”

Ban grew up in Japan and traveled to the United States at age 17, hoping to study architecture at Cooper Union in New York. But he learned upon arrival that the school didn’t take foreign students, except as transfers. He discovered the Southern California Institute of Architecture, where he studied for several years, and eventually transferred to Cooper Union.

In 1985, he started his own practice in Tokyo. One of his earliest projects: A boutique for his mother, a fashion designer.

Now based in three cities, Ban said he felt nonetheless a little underqualified for the Pritzker award.

“It’s too early,” he said. “I haven’t achieved enough, so I am taking this as encouragement for my future work,” he said. He also said he wanted to be careful not to let the prize cause him to expand his offices and overstretch himself.

Ban mused that he gets similar satisfaction seeing people enjoy his most expensive designs or his simplest structures of paper.

“Sometimes people are so happy in my temporary shelters that they don’t want to move out,” he said. “And the same with my work for private clients. The satisfaction is the same - I just love to make nice spaces for people to enjoy.”

Sponsored by the Hyatt Foundation, the annual Pritzker Architecture Prize was established in 1979 by the late entrepreneur Jay A. Pritzker and his wife, Cindy, to honor “a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.”