Build Back Better Tohoku

by Architecture for Humanity
Mar 11, 2013

Build Back Better Tohoku 2 year anniversary report

Build Back Better Tohoku: Two Year Anniversary

Architecture for Humanity is collaborating with local design and construction professionals to reconstruct the northern Japan region where the earthquake and tsunami hit on March 11, 2011. Any community would have been devastated by such a disaster – Japan was better prepared than most. However, it is in the event of disaster that communities need assistance in rebuilding. Through our network of local design and construction professionals we are providing technical expertise to help build back better Tohoku.

Tohoku Program Map


As the first year response, we started our program by listening. We enlisted design fellows from Tohoku to ask the locals directly what they needed. By listening to them and reacting swiftly to their needs, we built trusting relationships with communities. This was a very important step for us as a foreign NPO (Non-Profit Organization) before discussion of rebuilding could begin. Programs such as Honyaquake and Road Home were our responses to immediate needs.

We have completed 11 in the 2 years that have past since the disaster, and currently have several more in design or under development. The following is the list of reconstruction projects that we have been working on. There were many bumps on our way, from typical bureaucratic issues to post-disaster stress within some communities, but our goal has always been the same: to rebuild sustainable communities and economies in Tohoku.

Although this was an earthquake of unprecedented magnitude, it was certainly not the first time Tohoku suffered from a tsunami. Their resiliency will help the reconstruction of the region. Architecture for Humanity is honored to be able to support such an endeavor, and would like to continue working alongside the community every step of the way.





In the same way that one acupuncture needle can influence the overall health of a body, we believe a single key project can work to create a positive ripple effect to aid the entire affected community in its recovery process.

Our focus lies on three branches of community reconstruction (access to sports, education and welfare, and economic development).

Access to Sports

Providing access to sports through the built environment is of strong initial importance in the recovery process, as it aids in rebuilding ties between individuals and promotes physical and mental health.

Education and Welfare

As children and elderly are vulnerable portions of the population, there is a need to reconstruct spaces for children to learn and play, and elderly to socialize and obtain the resources they require in every day life. 

Economic Development

A number of financial lifelines - engines that allow communities to become self-reliant, were devastated by the tsunami.  Helping local businesses recover, open, create jobs, and collectively provide a financial future is essential in building back better.




Kitakami "We    Are One"                              Tour Designing the answer



Ohya Green Sports Park

Ohya Green Sports Park
Kesennuma, Miyagi
completion date:  2012.04
a sports park donated by coach Nofu to children who lost their play space due to the tsunami.


Shizugawa Judo Juku (

Shizugawa Judo Juku
Shizugawa, Minamisanrikucho, Miyagi
completion date:  2011.12
a temporary local judo center for elementary, junior high, and high school students that has trained 2 prefectural champions


Maeami-hama Community House (

Maeami-hama Community House
Maeami-hama, Miyagi
completion date:  2013.02
a community house designed using an innovative building technique,  in a town where only five out of forty houses survived


Paper Crane Sculpture ()

Paper Crane Sculpture
Sendai, Miyagi
completion date:  2012.01
2,000,000 cranes folded by students from 38 countries were sent to their Japanese peers and assembled into a large sculpture


Akahama Covered Alley

Akahama Covered Alley
Otsuchi-cho, Kamihei-gun, Iwate
completion date: 2012.07 
a covered alley connecting the lower and upper units of a temporary housing complex, encourages resident interaction


Kitakami Community House

Kitakami Community House
Kitakami, Ishinomaki, Miyagi
completion date: 2012.12
a place for residents to shop for fresh produce, and a safe place for mothers to work while they watch their children play after school


Hikado Market Place

Hikado Market Place
Motoyoshi, Kesennuma, Miyagi
completion date: 2011.06
a covered wooden deck made of salvaged timber from the tsunami, where community members gather to enjoy food and drinks


Oshika House

Oshika House
Ayukawahama, Ishinomaki, Miyagi
completion date: 2012.07
a space for the women's group of Oshika Peninsula Fishing Union to contribute to rebuilding back their village better and stronger


Shizugawa Banya

Shizugawa "Banya"
Shizugawa, Minamisanriku-cho, Miyagi
completion date:  2013.02
a workplace and warehouse ("Banya") for a group of 15 fishermen collaborating to rebuild a collective aquafarming business



Ishinomaki, Miyagi
completion date:  2012.11
as our first regional office in Japan, MakiBiz seeks to help small businesses in Tohoku rebuild and recover




Park for All Kamaishi

Park for All in Kamaishi
Kamaishi, Iwate
completion date:  2013
a park and clubhouse surrounded by the nature of Kamaishi, where children can enjoy sports activities.  Built in collaboration with KYSIN-no-kai




The tsunami did not differentiate between large and small businesses. In Ishinomaki alone, we do know that a total of 1,749 SMEs were affected, resulting in the loss of 472,000 million yen in profits and the loss of 18,000 jobs. Of these, 6,024 jobs lost were in the construction sector.

MakiBiz Helps SMEs

MakiBiz MAKOTO WorkshopRecovery from disaster requires a holistic approach. Disaster survivors require access to a wide range of services, including counseling, education, training, construction and design. The integration of construction services with business support services is key to the long-term economic recovery of the region. We opened our first regional office in Japan - "MakiBiz," which seeks to help small businesses in the Tohoku region rebuild and recover. MakiBiz provides design, construction, and business development referral services to the community of Ishinomaki in support of their efforts to build back better.

Unfunded Projects

Your donation will help fund the following projects we haven't been able to support financially, and many others in the future. 

Two years have past, but the communities still need help from donors.

Tokura Earthblock Workshop: estimated cost = $15,000

Kazuma Youth Center: estimated cost = $100,000

Hanahama "Costa de la flor": estimated cost = $150,000

Osaka Community Photo Studio: estimated cost = $200,000




We're partcipating in a special Japan Matching Campaign for a limited time!  Donations TRIPLED on the 11th, DOUBLED until the 15th!  Please DONATE TODAY and help us help communities in Tohoku for another year.


Japan Matching Campaign







Program Lead: Eric Cesal Program Manager: Michael Steiner Program Coordinator: Hiromi Tabei Regional Program Manager: Shogo Marukawa Design Fellows: Takaharu Saito, Akinobu Yoshikawa, Toru Nakaki, Yuko Okamura Business Coordinator: Miku Kano


Aida Atelier, Doogs Design, Hiroyuki Teshima, Japan Institute of Architects Tohoku Branch, Junichiro Matsumoto, KBT, Kiichi Kaiko, Kobayashi Maki Design Workshop (KMDW), Kumi Aizawa, Nathaniel Corum, Sasaki Sekkei, Shizuyo Shiba, studio-L, Yo Hayasaka, Yutaka Takiura


Luxs, Plante Module, Shimizu Kenchiku, Silhouette Spice 

Major Partners

ArchiAID, Autodesk, Bentley University, Bezos Family Foundation, Citizen Effect,, GlobalGiving, Global Nomads Group, Heath Ceramics, Kimball International, Nike, PACT, PechaKucha Inspire Japan, Prudential Foundation, Prudential of Japan, Punkt., Sara Morishige Williams, Students Rebuild


Architecture for Humanity London Chapter, Architecture for Humanity Tokyo Chapter, City of Ishinomaki, Daisaku Okamoto, Daniel Bensi, ETIC., FLight, General Incorporate Association Tsumugiya, Hatsumi Hoshizawa, Hidehiko Ishimori, Higashi-niban-cho Elementary School, Hirohisa Higashi, HMC Architects | Designing Futures Foundation, Islander Middle School, JR East, Kazuki Kasahara, Keio University, Kyoto University of Art and Design, Leslie Stoner Studio, Machizukuri Man-bow, MAKOTO, Miyagi Prefecture Department of Education, Miyagi University of Education, Miyagi University School of Project Design, NPO Midori-no-ie School, PacRim Studio, PayPal, Reiji Ohe, Ruinart-Moet Hennessy, Saunder Juriaans, Sendai Central Community Center, Sendai Saiwai-cho Youth and Community Center, Shanti Volunteer Association, S-Pal Sendai, Supporting Organization for Artists of Tohoku, Tadd Sackville-West, The COVE/CTM DREAMS United National International School, Tohoku Seikatsu Bunka University, Tohoku University, Tohoku University of Art and Design, Tsutsujigaoka Elementary School, University Cooperative School, University of Cincinnati, University of San Francisco, Valerie Quirk, Vic Muniz Studio, We Are One Kitakami, Women's Group of Oshika Peninsula Fishing Union in Ayukawa-hama, Yasunobu Meguro, Yoshihiro Konno, Zenetsu Sakai




This work would not be possible without the generous support of our staff, design fellows, volunteers, partners and donors. Thank you!


Autodesk, Bentley University, Bezos Family Foundation, Citizen Effect, Dianne Douthat, Global Giving, Heath Ceramics, HMC Designing Futures Foundation, Hong Kong Ambassadors of Design, Jeannie Hoff, Kimball International, Minami Design, molo design, Nike Inc., PACT Apparel, Inc, Polk Bros. Foundation, Prudential Foundation, Punkt Group, Roti Indian Bistro, Ruinart-Moet Hennessy USA, Sarah Morishige Williams, Sarah Yannaco, Szu-Lung Chang, Tencent America, LLC…and many others.

Fundraising Organizers

Architecture for Humanity London Chapter, CafeLife Virtual Cranes for Japan, Fashion Girls for Humanity, Heartbeats for Japan, Live4Sendai, PechaKucha, Rise for Japan, Robert Nealan

A Special Thank You

Last but definitely not least, we would like to thank all of the individuals who donated to support our reconstruction effort in Tohoku. While we cannot list everyone here, we are especially grateful to you.

Architecture for Humanity makes every effort to ensure accuracy in donor and partner listings, but on occasion errors may occur. Please contact us at 415-963-3511 with any questions or comments.


(Click here to see the web version of this report.)


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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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