Paper Sanctuary: Pragmatism & Poetry for Ukrainian Refugees

Presenting the Paper Partition System (PPS) by Japanese architect and humanitarian Shigeru Ban. Transforming any space into a shelter for privacy, dignity and hope, ‘Paper Sanctuary’ marks a collaboration with Ukrainian-born poet, novelist and literary translator Svetlana Lavochkina, Berlin photographer Vincent Haiges, and Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, now a war refugee in Berlin himself. With a collection of Ukrainian poems and “memories of home”.

Shigeru Ban’s Paper Partition System (PPS) is a simple yet powerful shelter, composed of humble materials: cloth curtains and paper tubes from the fabric industry that interlock to form reusable, sustainable modules. Easy to assemble, the nomadic system allows for rapid deployment across numerous sites, and since March 2022 Shigeru Ban and his NGO “VAN” (Voluntary Architects’ Network) have installed it in schools and gymnasiums in Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia and France.

A sanctuary in architectural terms is a physical shelter, a place that provides refuge and safety from danger, a place that many Ukrainians, mostly women, children and the elderly, have sought to find. Leaving their homes with very few belongings, they have been forced to escape, on trains, buses, on foot. More than 13 million people have been uprooted since the war began. This type of mass migration of displaced people has not been seen since WW2.

A sanctuary can also be a holy or sacred place, for the protection and comfort of the spirit. Both poetry and music, traditionally written on paper, can offer that refuge from the world too, as a source of strength, courage and fortitude. But before poetry comes the raw process of witnessing.

With each step, as many of the poems and memories document, a refugee moves further and further from home, treasuring recollections of that familiar place: a pear tree in the garden, a coffee cup by a window, an old chair, a much-loved pet. At the same time, with each step a difference can be made by others, through empathy, compassion and invention.

Using humble, “weak” materials, Ban has shown that what is weak can also be strong, “if it is loved”, and the survival of his temporary architecture is testament to this philosophy. Since his student days too, studying under John Hedjuk, he has compared architecture to poetry and music.

It is hoped that the Biennale’s first humanitarian pavilion will raise funds through public donation to further the development of a longer-term temporary housing system by Shigeru Ban: small prefabricated houses that will allow the lives of individuals, not numbers, to continue.

You can donate to the project here.

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Architect Shigeru Ban



Shigeru Ban


Clare Farrow Studio


Shigeru Ban Architects / VAN

Poetry, Essay and Translation:

Svetlana Lavochkina


Vincent Haiges


Valentin Silvestrov, Bagatellen und Serenaden, ECM Records


Shigeru Ban Architects / VAN

Architectural Association students Asad Nasir Qureshi, Natalia Juca Freire, Vidhi Bhargava, Pinak Bhapkar, Selin Ozasik, Gautami Bhoite


Matt Jarvis, Creative Technologist


Omni Colour


Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation

Japan Foundation

ECM Records

Shigeru Ban Architects / Voluntary Architects’ Network (VAN)

Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky, Words for War: New Poems for Ukraine (eds), Academic Studies Press/Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, Boston

Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA)

2023 Exhibitors