Build Back Better Tohoku

by Architecture for Humanity
Jul 26, 2012

Rebuilding in Tohoku - "We Are One"

"Ishi" in Japanese means "stone," and you don't have to go too far to see how closely Ishinomaki is tied to the stone upon which the city was founded 80 years ago. The tsunami has made this connection even more apparent. The streets have in recent decades been paved over with asphalt for the benefit of a comfortable commute. The powerful waters of last year's tsunami has torn some of this asphalt away - bringing daylight once more to the original stone pavers.

It's details like these that bring a new layer of complexity and understanding to the residents of Ishinomaki. The economic hardships the city has suffered since the 80's and the destruction wrought by the 3/11 tsunami have tested the resolve of this industrial city's inhabitants -- whose response to such tests was to come together and help rebuild. Naomi Sato, an accountant in the community of Kitakami, has found herself as a leading player in her city's 'building back better.' The tsunami changed the direction of her life, as it has in the case of so many others, and Ms. Sato now counts herself among a growing field of dynamic players rebuilding the services and stability a town needs to make a rock-solid comeback.

Damage in Ishinomaki

Damaged storefronts in Ishinomaki, May 2012

Temporary housing (May 2012)

Temporary Housing, May 2012

Before the earthquake, Naomi kept the books at a local general contractor’s office. In 2009, she joined the Kitakami Redevelopment Committee for the city of Ishinomaki. Naomi lost her husband to the earthquake, and now is the sole caretaker of their three children. She got depressed following the disaster, but quickly realized she had to move forward with her family.

Determined to help her family and community rebuild after the earthquake, Naomi organized a group of local residents. The "We Are One" Market planning committee was founded by Naomi and four other mothers living in one of Ishinomaki's new temporary housing complexes. The committee's goal: to found a place for the residents of the housing complex to buy fresh food and for their children to meet after school. The vision, called Kitakimi “We Are One”, is to build a community center and market where mothers can work and watch neighborhood kids after school at the same time.

"We Are One" organizers and Architecture for Humanity staff meet with Kitakami officials to discuss the project.

Members of the "We Are One" team, including Naomi.

The site of the future market. Currently, Naomi and "We Are One" are selling fruits and vegetables from a small temporary market located there.

Inside the temporary market

Inside the temporary market. In May, Naomi reported that the temporary market was doing well - there are many locals and contractors who are working on reconstruction projects that stop by every day, she says.

After Disaster, “We Are One”

Life in the isolated towns and villages of Tohoku has changed drastically since 3/11. Kitakami once had three elementary schools, but two of them were severely damaged by the tsunami and all students have been forced to attend the single surviving school. As a result, 250 students have been sharing a school designed for about 100 occupants. Not only were classrooms lost: Kitakami's public library, computer lab, and other after school meeting spots were destroyed as well. In the year following the earthquake, finding space for students to meet and study has been a priority for Kitakami residents.

The town also lost their closest market, meaning that residents living in the temporary housing complex have to drive about 15 miles to purchase fresh food. Folks without cars or who are too old to drive themselves have to rely on the generosity of their neighbors to buy fresh food, and the organizing committee wants to ensure that these community members can regain their independence and access to healthy eats.

Out of the scarcity of the life in Kitakami, community members have collaborated to identify how they can make the most out of a small piece of land they have near the temporary housing complex by building a joint community center and marketplace.

Architect Fumihiko Sasaki (see his firm's work) was introduced to the "We Are One" committee last fall. Given the community's limited financial resources (but unlimited resolve), Mr. Sasaki has proposed an innovative design. The building has been strategically pieced together from several prefabricated structures (which are substantially cheaper to 'build') and adorned with an inviting, lively facade. The financial sustainability of the market has been kept in mind, too: in addition to providing fresh food for nearby residents, "We Are One" organizers hope to entice travellers using the nearby highway to stop and shop the market.

Final elevation drawings of the market

A plan view of the proposal for a joint community market and youth center

Mr. Fumihiko Sasaki presents the designs to Naomi

Mr. Fumihiko Sasaki presents the designs to Naomi

Mr. Sasaki presents a model of the project to town officials

Mr. Sasaki presents a model of the project to town officials

"We Are One" Market & Youth Center model

"We Are One" Market & Youth Center model

Model interior

Model interior

June 17, 2012, traditional Shinto groundbreaking ceremony

June 17, 2012, Shinto groundbreaking ceremony

Ms. Sato participates in groundbreaking Mr. sasaki participates in groundbreaking

Ms. Sato and Mr. Sasaki participate in the groundbreaking

On July 17, 2012, the "We Are One" Market permanent building broke ground. Design Fellow Akinobu Yoshikawa follows up on last week's groundbreaking ceremony:

"[The ceremony] was held on a warm but cloudy (partly raining) morning on July 17th, 2012...with children going to school and commuting workers passing by with amused eyes.... An old lady taking a walk from the nearby temporary housing complex, came to me asking what is going to get built. After explaining the project to her, she said it will nice to see something going up, and looks forward to the completion.

"This Shinto ceremony is a custom here in Japan and held regardless of the project type or scale. The first ceremony is this ground breaking ceremony. Fruits, vegetables, fish, and sake is presented to the gods (the items varies a little per location). The ground breaking ceremony is held in Japan to pray for the safekeeping of the workers and others involved while in construction. Next ceremony will be the framework completion ceremony when all the timber framing is completed. And at the end another one, the building completion ceremony will be held."

Construction will begin soon following Japan's Bon Festival. The goal is to wrap up the building process before the local ‘building season’ ends in October or November. (Tohoku's cold winters make it very difficult to keep building later in the year.) The completed market and youth center will serve 40 families – including over 350 students – in the nearby temporary housing, plus travelers using the adjacent highway. Stay tuned - we'll be providing updates as the "We Are One" market and youth center moves closer to completion!

About Paper Cranes for Japan

This 4-minute film tells the story of Paper Cranes for Japan—including the unveiling of a massive sculpture in Sendai Train Station using 100,000 of your paper cranes—and how it inspired a global movement that mobilized thousands of young people in 38 countries and all fifty states to support their Japanese peers following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. All told, Paper Cranes for Japan participants folded and shipped over 2 million paper cranes as a symbol of hope and healing for Japanese youth, raising $500,000 for Architecture for Humanity's Tohoku Rebuilding Program and projects like this!

Paper Cranes for Japan has been nominated for a CLASSY Award! If you like how this unique Awareness Campaign has supported Architecture for Humanity's work in Japan, Vote for PC4J Before JULY 26, 2012.


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Organization Information

Architecture for Humanity

Location: San Francisco, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Architecture for Humanity
Project Leader:
Hiromi Tabei
San Francisco, CA United States

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