Architecture for Humanity is bringing architects, and other design professionals, together with communities to rebuild Tohoku after last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. On April 6, I was lucky to be invited to join the Architecture for Humanity staff in a planning meeting to see how the process actually works. On the drive to the meeting in the local city hall in Kitikami, AfH staff Takaharu Saito, explained to me a little bit about the project that would be discussed. He explained that a group of mothers living in nearby temporary shelters had proposed the idea for the “We are One” Market – a central space where elderly and others living in the temporary shelters could shop for groceries, where students could study and children could play, and where community members could come together as they plan rebuilding their lives. AfH is working with the mothers to design and build the building they need to make their dream a reality.
The goal for the day to go over the preliminary plans and make any final suggestions and changes to the plan before the architect started on the final blue prints. Attending the meeting were two women initiating the project, three AfH staff, the (pro-bono) architect, and a local government official. It was amazing to see the various stakeholders working together for a common goal. Each had been affected by the tsunami in his or her own way. They had lost homes and friends and communities, but they were coming to improve their situation together.
Throughout the course of the next few hours much was discussed: Should the building be one or two stories? Who would be the primary users of the building? Did it make more sense to build a children’s center or a general meeting room? Should the commerce section have a difference entrance than the community center section? All voices were listened to equally and in turn and a few hours later, there was a design that incorporated ideas from each person in the room.
The mothers are eager to get started and aren’t waiting for the completion of the building to get their business and community center running. They’ll be operating out of a temporary structure while construction starts alongside them in the permanent structure. On April 14, the “We are One Market” launches as one step closer to rebuilding the community so many lost in last year’s disaster.
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