One of my colleagues, professor Hiroto Kobayashi (also here), took on a project this summer that brought together students from harvard university and keio to build a community gathering place in minami san-riku.
the group i worked with was based in kesennuma which is a bit further north, but the devastation was just as horrible if not more so in minami san-riku. just for reference the area is about 70 km north of sendai (where ito's mediatheque building is located)
the project they took on was to build a meeting place for refugees who are staying in temporary shelters that have been built on the playing fields of the local schools. by chance two temporary communities were built fairly close to one another and so this building was designed to sit in between them and serve both. It is a place of contact between the two settlements and while not overly large is big enough to develop some sense of place and of community. If there is one common theme with the temporary settlements in tohoku it is that they do not really provide for people to gather nor to build cohesion as a community so this kind of facility is almost always lacking. To be fair this kind of place is perhaps not a priority when thousands of people simply need to get shelter after losing a home, but it does become a real need not long after.
the project was lead by Miho Mazereeuw (a relevant article here), Yoshihiro Hiraoka and hiroto kobayashi. Students from Harvard and from Keio joined together in the construction along with local residents. It is based on a clever building system using wooden blocks that are pegged together to make a screen around the wooden structure (which was i believe built by volunteer carpenters).
They have put together a kind of blog that you can see here in English and Japanese. Apologies to the writers on the site but the Japanese side of the blog is more interesting, or atleast has the sexy pitcures. I have taken some of those pictures from there and also recommend the video they put together showing the construction of the project. Some of my students joined in this project so i will see if i can grab some photos from them as well and update this post with some under construction imagery. it looked like a lot of work, but in a good way.
keio university's architecture program is probably the best kept secret in the country. Hidden away on a campus an hour from tokyo the curriculum is wide open and connected to a campus-wide project aimed at community-driven innovation. students of economics can take courses in architecture and vice versa but we all are expected to take part in real projects somewhere in the world. there are a few starchitects on the faculty but mostly we are hoping to make a difference.