Disaster architecture – Japan

Sendai and environs will require temporary architecture to house those displaced by the March 11 tsunami. There’s need for both immediate relief shelters and longer-term temporary housing. One of the world’s most famous architects of disaster relief structures is himself Japanese: Shigeru Ban has worked extensively with the United Nations on varities of relief architecture, and is an expert on the use of paper for such structures (see this previous post). He is already involved in a tsunami relief project, below, and you can view more photos and find out how to donate to it at Spoon & Tamago. It’s a low-cost, easy-to-assemble system intended to provide comfort and privacy within refugee centres and is well worth supporting. Above is a second Japanese project being considered for tsunami-hit areas. Here it’s a hotel, but there’s talk of adapting it for Sendai. The units are made, as you can probably tell, from old [or not, see comments below] shipping containers. It’s designed by Yasutaka Yoshimura Architects (via Inhabitat). There’s been a fair amount of criticism of shipping containers as sustainable re-use, given the difficult of both cooling and heating them. It’ll be interesting to see if these problems can be mitigated. The white finish on these may well be more than aesthetic—it no doubt eases heat in summer.

Little rebuilding has yet begun in Japan. As rebuilding starts, both Japanese and foreign, I would like to follow it. Architecture for Humanity is fundraising for the rebuilding effort—they are the last responders and generally wait until permanent rebuilding can begin. Artist Kyohei Sakaguchi (who’s currently showing work in Vancouver) has been advocating for a different type of community planning around radically shared amenities and low-energy appliances run on solar power. His plan contains an implicit critique of Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy. It’s a radical plan but it will be interesting to see if the opportunity for new urban planning and building directions will be taken up in Sendai and other hard-hit areas.

PS It’s always a relief to see disaster and relief shelters not plastered with the logos of sponsors or agencies. It always seems like an insult to the displaced—they become a sort of product belong to agencies attempting to capitalize on crisis and its PR opportunities. This point was also recently made in the controversial Renzo Martens art film Enjoy Poverty (title is intended as ironic). See Martens interviewed here if you’re interested. Unfortunately these YouTube clips don’t include the section on disaster architecture.

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4 Responses to “Disaster architecture – Japan”

  1. JT Says:

    I don’t think the Ex-Container Project uses old shipping containers.

    MediaBugs.org notes: “While the name of the project itself, “Ex-Container,” may confuse some into thinking these shelters are fashioned from used shipping containers, the Ex-Container Project site reveals in photos and words exactly how the housing units are built from new materials. If that’s not clear enough a recent tweet from the Ex-Container Project explicitly spells out that these modules are N-E-W, new.” (https://twitter.com/ex_container)

  2. LB Says:

    Thanks, JT. Too bad – would have been great if it had been containers. I misunderstood.

  3. JT Says:

    Sorry – the link to the Ex-Container Twitter message should be: https://twitter.com/ex_container/status/257647385088499712

  4. JT Says:

    The “Ex-Container Project” moniker is kind of confusing. I’ve been a big fan of Container City and love the idea of reusing shipping containers (although I’m a little concerned about the issue of toxic sprays, etc.). I think Japan’s building codes may prohibit the use of old containers – hence the use of newly constructed ones by Yoshimura and Shigeru Ban (for similar temp. housing in partnership with Muji). Still they are a great idea and a relatively quick solution for sheltering disaster victims. Plus once their inhabitants move on to different digs they can be reused wherever needed.

    BTW – this was an insightful article. I was especially pleased to learn about Sakaguchi and hear your thoughts about capitalizing on crises.

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