Center Co-sponsors Exhibit in Berlin on Earthquake Reconstruction in Japan

Center Co-sponsors Exhibit in Berlin on Earthquake Reconstruction in Japan

ArchiAid Rethinking - Reconstruction: The Great East Japan Earthquake (Photo: Kahoku Shimpo Newspaper)

This exhibition takes a critical look at the reconstruction and recovery efforts by presenting the work of ArchiAid, a reconstruction support network of Japanese architects formed in response to the large-scale official recovery strategy.

Two and a half years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake. At this time, it is important to examine the progress of reconstruction efforts to date, and to share the stories of how various communities have dealt with the confusion and displacement following the devastation. This exhibition takes a critical look at the reconstruction and recovery efforts by presenting the work of ArchiAid, a reconstruction support network of Japanese architects formed in response to the large-scale official recovery strategy, which for the most part neglected to consider the particular needs of individual communities that are essential for the long-term stability of the population.

Unlike a metropolitan disaster affecting a concentrated population and economic center, the Great East Japan Earthquake was a regional disaster affecting an extremely broad 500-kilometer area in Northern Japan that sustained damage in the tsunami. Numerous small communities along the coast, already dealing with the problems of weakening economic strength from depopulation and an aging population, received a devastating blow, exacerbating pre-existing problems and imperiling the region’s future.

Yet today, two and a half years after the disaster, reconstruction in the affected region is proceeding slowly and an ideal common vision for the future has yet to be realized. The reconstruction plan is structured in a top-down style, with the central government imposing financial constraints and dictating a bureaucratic framework that deprives individual municipalities of their autonomy while excluding prefectural authorities entirely. Constrained by this vertical structure, it is impossible to formulate a vision or strategy for the future that transcends mere physical reconstruction and responds to the many complex, intertwined factors of the region. Stopgap measures drawn from a uniform template are just deployed in the many different areas. In response to problems that assume varying forms across the region, this mechanical method imposes uniform solutions in a simplified manner that is divorced from the specificity of each place. It may appear to be effective, but it is incapable of opening up the future of the region. The application of stopgap measures to each area will not suffice to bring about a return to pre-earthquake conditions. Instead, a comprehensive reconstruction strategy is needed for the reorganization of the region and the rebirth of industry. Moreover, the situation requires an architectural approach that is based on the individual characteristics of each area, and that offers comprehensive solutions to their problems.

Unfortunately, the large-scale reconstruction strategy advanced by the government does not involve Japan’s architects. Architects’ responses to the disaster have gained worldwide attention, including the many temporary houses that Shigeru Ban and others contributed in the early stages of reconstruction, as well as the meeting spaces for temporary housing projects represented by Ito Toyo’s “House For All.” These projects have been confined to an extremely limited scope of individual activity. The many beautiful attempts by Japan’s architects makes clear that not even leading architects are in a position to influence the reconstruction strategy on the national level, and they are excluded from the essential operations of disaster reconstruction. The image of the hero architect who can make substantial contributions to society is already a thing of the past. It is clear that architects’ social standing is ever more confined to an individual, limited basis.

Nevertheless, this situation has not resulted in a loss of hope. Even now, two and a half years after the disaster, numerous architects are working at the grassroots level, engaging with many sites throughout the region on a limited, individual basis to continue the reconstruction effort. In contrast to the top-down, large-scale reconstruction method that neglects the particular characteristics and needs of each region, the reconstruction efforts of Japan’s architects include a rich variety of decentralized, guerilla-style, small-scale actions across the region. Their efforts demonstrate the viability of alternative reconstruction strategies. While not heroic, the many reconstruction activities of these architects are flexible, and may broaden over time to include activities that transcend the standard definition of the architect’s profession.

ArchiAid was formed in order to coordinate these diverse efforts. ArchiAid is a support network that connects architects employing autonomous, decentralized approaches to reconstruction. This network of diverse reconstruction activities constitutes an effective method for rebuilding the region, and also suggests new ways for architects to engage with society, sometimes as collaborators, sometimes as advisors, and sometimes as rebels. This exhibition introduces the diverse reconstruction activities and independent strategies of the various architects working in each area, all of whom are connected by the ArchiAid network.


Description of Exhibition Design:
After the disaster, with the help of many volunteers, family albums that had been scattered across the affected area were gathered together at the Yuriage Elementary School Gymnasium. Photographs damaged by seawater were washed and dried on nets stretched across the room and arranged so that the owners of the photographs could find them. This exhibition pays homage to this installation, which aspires not to art but rather to a deep understanding of the devastation of the disaster and the earnest efforts of the Japanese people. The exhibition is organized into five categories: Public Facilities, Community, Dwelling, Industry, and Memory. Encompassing a variety of activities and functions, these five categories attend closely to the diverse needs and individual characteristics of the different communities affected by the disaster.

Exhibition Sponsors:
・    Tchoban Foundation
In cooperation with Phoenix Reloaded, an ANCB program
・Japan Federation of Construction Contractors, Tohoku Branch Office
・UCLA Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies

For more info please contact:
Stephanie Kawahara

Published: Wednesday, October 09, 2013