Build Back Better Tohoku

by Architecture for Humanity
Aug 29, 2012

August in Tohoku - Half the Season

The end of July marks the half-way point for the Tohoku construction season, and we figured we could take stock of how our collaborative rebuilding projects are helping the tsunami-stricken region recover. The four featured cast a wide net of methods, materials and the unique conditions demanding their careful consideration.


(See project details & imgs further below)

Akahama Covered Alley Completed
In the beginning of May, the second phase of the construction finally started with the local community members and volunteers from Tokyo under the supervision of the master carpenter, Mr. Hoshino. In the middle of June, we mostly completed the construction. We still need to put some finishing touches after the typhoon season ends in July such as solar-powered lighting fixtures on each landing and add some landscaping around. We expect the project to be completed by the end of August.

Shizugawa Banya In Construction
The government paved the site in the end of May. It pushed back our schedule a bit, but it was good that they did before we started our construction. Building permit was finally approved on June 20, 2012. Then the pre-fab contractor started to coordinate the factory to build two units. The fabrication phase was extended because the contractor could not find a local sub-contractor to work on the interior finish, so they had to order the job at the factory instead. Due to the fact, we are expecting the units to come on site on August 20, 2012. As soon as they are delivered, we should be able to complete the project within a month to finally provide the proper workspace that these fishermen deserve. Our most urgent challenge ahead is to keep the sense of urgency and to push to better their delivery schedule.

Oshika House Completed
After three months of search for a contractor, we broke ground for the Oshika House on June 15, 2012. Even after we started the construction, challenges kept coming. Since the construction season in Tohoku is short and many reconstruction projects are going up, there is severe shortage of building materials and labor right now. The contractors had hard time tracking down necessary lumber, equipment and paint. With great help from volunteers, the team finished up the construction on July 17, and held an opening event on July 21.

Maeami-hama community house Pre-design
Professor Hiroto Kobayashi at Keio University and his students designed and constructed a similar community building in Utazu area of Minami-sanriku-cho, Miyagi Prefecture. They used plywood sheets that were washed out by the tsunami to create the structural framing. (See the photos on Page 10.) This innovative new building technique allowed them to construct the building inexpensively with much help from the community members and student volunteers during the construction.

Professor Kobayashi agreed to partner with us to design and build a community house for the people in Maeami-hama. We are very excited about this partnership.

Akahama Covered Alley sequence AKAHAMA COVERED ALLEY - COMPLETED

This is the second place winner of the first round of Build Back Better Tohoku. Akahama village lost 100 residents out of 900. Most of them moved into the temporary housing. Because of the random placement of residents and the callous layout of units, the sense of community is dissipated.

The community with the help from NPO Midorino-ie School proposed a set of covered staircases between units built on the terraced site in order to connect upper units and lower units. Currently they have to walk on a steep slope, and they are worried snow and ice on the slope in winter making extremely dangerous to walk on. The residents are encouraged to lend their hand for the construction to cultivate the sense of community. The stairs and roof are designed to reflect the traditional architecture as well as utilize local materials.

HIGHLIGHTS The first set of four covered stairways was built by the end of December 2012. The stairway was constructed with the traditional Japanese joinery.

The second phase construction began immediately after the phase one, but, due to the snowy winter weather in Tohoku, the outside construction work has been slowed significantly.

Meanwhile, the community leader, Mr. Okamoto, told us that the first set of the covered stairs has been very useful during the snowy winter. He also mentioned that everybody appreciates the high quality of work and its beauty in their dreary temporary housing complex.

Finally the residents can safely navigate through the complex, and perhaps have some impromptu social gatherings happening at covered landings. The final photos will be posted on the Akahama Alley page when they become available.

Framing on second flight; roof on third flight

The installation of the staircase with roof to link housing units on the terraced site. This will vastly improve the communication between families and provide an accessible route.

800 residents of Akahama Temporary Housing Complex in Otsuchi, Iwate prefecture

Partially funded by Punkt - $51,000 construction grant (total)

Shizugawa Banya August 2012 sequence SHIZUGAWA BANYA - IN CONSTRUCTION

A group of 15 fishermen who lost everything for the Great East Japan Earthquake would like to rebuild their workplace and warehouse (called Banya in Japanese) as their new base of the town's fishing industry, which is the key industry of the area. These fishermen were used to operate individually, but now they would like to bring in each unique experience and idea to rebuild the collective aqua-farming business. They hope the return of fishing business would encourage the speedy reconstruction of the rest of the town.

The project provides a storage and workspace for local fishermen, and will help them build back their business and boost morale of the community.

• 15 Motohama fishermen and their families
• 6,800 residents of Shizugawa who would benefit from their aqua-farming business and products directly and indirectly

8,993,250 JPY construction grant (approx. 114,000 USD at exchange rate of July 16, 2012)

Oshika House August 2012 sequence OSHIKA HOUSE - COMPLETED

This is the first place winner of the first round of Build Back Better Tohoku RFP (Request for Proposal) program. Women’s Group of Oshika Peninsula Fishing Union in Ayukawa-hama in Ishinomaki has been making and selling woven bracelets with strings that fishermen use to fix fishing nets since a few months after the earthquake devastated their village. After the earthquake, they realized that they would need to diversify their economic structure in their village to build back their society, and become sustainable. Therefore they proposed to create a space for bracelet making and community gathering as well as serving prepared food to the community and tourists using local produce and seafood.

Oshika House build sequence
Oshika House build sequence

IMPACT Installation of a work space / café will allow the Women’s Group to empower them to become financially independent, and contribute to build the sustainable economy of the community.

• 7 Mermamaid members and their families
• Approximately 1,000 Ayukawahama residents CONSTRUCTION COST $51,000 construction grant (final)

Community house site sketch MAEAMI-HAMA COMMUNITY HOUSE - PRE-DESIGN

Meami-hama is located on the Oshika Peninsula – about ninety minutes east of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. People have to drive a long narrow and windy road, which is still left scarred by the earthquake-led landslides. The government aid hardly reaches the remote villages like Maeami-hama because the repair of damages in larger towns’ infrastructure gets more priority.

The earthquake and tsunami wiped out almost the whole village of Maeami-hama. Only five houses out of forty survived. The Maeami-hama Reconstruction Project Team has established in May 2011 after the residents lamented the government's slow response to the reconstruction of their village. The team has the total of nine members, and leads the community of eighty people.

Most of residents works for the aquaculture industry, and used to live on the water. The government laid out the no-build zone along the coast, and built a temporary housing complex for the residents of Maeami-hama on a higher ground, away from the coast where they work. It takes them about five minutes by car to commute now. The peninsula is mountainous with very limited flat land to build. Hence their temporary housing complex does not have an enough community space to have family gatherings such as weddings, funerals and other community events. Architecture for Humanity will design and construct a community house with the Meami-hama Reconstruction Project Team. The site is located at the entrance to the village, and owned by the fishermen’s union whom generouslydonated the land for the community. It is on the higher ground, so hardly gets under water.

Construction method as implemented on the Tokyo Chapter's Veneer House in minami sanriku

The project will allow the community member to have a large gathering such as annual festivals, weddings, family reunions and so on.

100 community members of Maeami-hama

$100,000 construction grant (estimated) / $40,000 (secured)



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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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