Following Japan’s Tohoku earthquake—questions that designers and architects now face
The magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami and nuclear disaster that hit Japan last March created an unthinkable tragedy that devastated Japan’s northern Tohoku region. According to the Japanese National Police Agency, the triple-sided cataclysm killed more than 15,000 people, displacing some 100,000 children, and caused tens of billions of US dollars in damage.
Although Japan is no stranger to seismic events, the Tohoku catastrophe was Japan’s largest known earthquake, and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in recorded world history. Despite Japan’s familiarity with devastation and reconstruction – consider the 1923 Kanto earthquake, or the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 – there remain fundamental differences of opinion regarding the appropriate way to rebuild. The greatest argument concerns whether to emphasize a centralized or dispersed model of population distribution.
The fast-paced megalopolis of Tokyo is both the commercial and political capital of Japan – not to mention the most populous city in the world – and attracts young Japanese away from small towns such as Minamisanriku and Rikuzentakata, fishing villages that were levelled by the tsunami. Despite doubts about the practicality of rebuilding such areas, there remains strong advocacy for preserving the livelihood of these towns.
According to Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando, “The Tohoku region still maintains some trace of the traditional Japanese family, owing to the many farming and fishing communities set around family businesses. This explains why the people have managed to maintain their calm and order even within this difficult time. Reconstruction must be focused around this sense of connection within families and regional communities.”
Read more of Blaine Brownell’s article on the rebuilding of Japanese cities in the “Future Cities” supplement to the Times.