When Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Toyo Ito started work on his Mediatheque in Sendai he envisioned the seven-story glass library as an artificial forest where people could stroll around, electronic gadgets in hand, meeting friends or retreating to hideouts to study – all the while communicating with the world. He completed the building in 2001 with 13 inner tubes branching out from bottom to top like giant tree stems.
“We live inside two bodies. One is virtual, created by communication technology expanding continuously. The other is primitive, limited, and has not changed for thousands of years,” explains Ito. “We still need sleep and food and cannot escape gravity, but architecture can be the interface between those bodies.” The Tohoku Earthquake 10 years later proved him right, as the Mediatheque withstood the devastating seismic shocks and the people inside survived – their “virtual bodies” connected to the whole world.
To support the reconstruction efforts, Ito and like-minded contemporary architects started Home-for-All, a Japanese NPO that creates houses in disaster stricken areas around Tohoku, with 15 buildings finished so far. These are gathering spaces for those in temporary housing, for kids to play in, and for farmers and fishermen to get back on their feet. At the same time Home-for-All also serves as a role model. “Shelters and support facilities should not be dull containers or warehouses but places with a pleasant, uplifting design,” says architect Mark Dytham. He and partner Astrid Klein created a building for children in Soma City with an intricate wooden ceiling and roof structure. Home-for-All members Toyo Ito, Kumiko Inui, Sou Fujimoto, and Akihisa Hirata even used debris and trees broken by the tsunami to create a building in Rikuzentakata where 1,800 people had lost their lives. It was so unusually designed that the prestigious Venice Biennale architecture event exhibited the structure.
Others, like Tokyo-based architect Yasuhiro Yamashita, went out on their own to help. High salt levels had made farmland along the coast non-arable, but since Yamashita and his practice, Atelier Tekuto, had experience using earth as a construction material, he developed a new method to make use of the damaged earth of Minamisanriku for an emergency supply warehouse.
Shigeru Ban too put his ingenuity to work. For decades, the award-winning architect helped out all over the world where destruction, war, or famine threatened survival; with emergency structures made of simple paper tubes. The technique he developed makes transport easy and assembling of building structures quick and painless, with the bonus of being a creative design alternative to nondescript shelter containers. – Roland Hagenberg