Learning by doing in Japan

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    cleaning up

    will galloway
    Jul 30, '11 11:48 PM EST

    We are near the end of a very busy term. 

    Because we lost a month of classes as a result of the blackouts all of the courses ended up being very compressed, and with our school heavily focused on events in Tohoku and elsewhere the students were also asked to take on a fair amount of extra work.

    Because our curriculum emphasizes fieldwork and internships the students will still be in school, more or less, even over the short summer break.  Next week we head to Kesennuma to join in the festival up there, and at the end of the month we are going to host a group of students from Israel and have a small workshop to explain the studio.  The idea is to pass on what we have learned so they can take up projects on their own in response to the disaster in Tohoku. 

    I am still ruminating on how to show the work the students have been doing in class and to put the final projects onto this site.  That will remain a work in progress for a wee bit longer I think.  I would also like to make a few longer posts that highlight some of the issues the students were dealing with, to add some context to their work, and to explain the process they went through as they took on issues related to the disaster and turned them into something to be tackled through design.

    In the meantime, some images from Erez Golani sent via his i-phone last night from Tohoku. Erez is a partner in my design office and also a professor at Bezalel university in Israel and at Waseda University here in Tokyo.  It is with his students that we will be working at the end of August so i expect there will be more about him in this space at some point. 

    Natori City


    Kesennuma City



    The process of cleaning up is still ongoing and will likely continue for some time.  The sheer amount of wreckage created by the tsunami seemed to me to be overwhelming when i first saw it in March.  Happily the stereotype of Japanese efficiency is in this case real.  Right now the metal is being piled with the metal and the wood with the wood and the landscape is slowly transformed to something more comprehensible, even if it is still a bit surreal. There was no clear plan laid out for dealing with this amount of rubble and debris, scattered as it is over three prefectures, and estimated to total some 24 million tons.  Some of the wreckage is toxic, some can be easily recycled, but mixed in with it were all the memorabilia and photos that filled the homes of the victims of the disaster.  The government had residents go through the debris to save any important items before the large machinery moved in, and the bodies of the missing and dead were also removed, which was in itself a massive undertaking.  What will be done with the gathered waste even at this point is still a bit up in the air.

    A few of the students in the studio this year tried to imagine ways to make use of the wreckage,  turning it into landfill to create massive landscapes that would form part of a new tsunami barrier along the coast.  This seems as intelligent a way to use the wreckage as any, although when it comes to landscape design I feel the real challenge is to work out what to do with the remains of the homes and villages that are still just visible on the ground.  Building foundations and the outline of streets seem to mimic archaeological sites like Pompeii and to me at least resist further destruction.  In many areas it will be impossible to return to the ocean-side villages and yet covering them up takes away the chance for survivors to even visit the places they once lived.  It is perhaps inevitable but feels a bit immoral to me somehow.  Making designs that are sensitive to that situation and still work as barriers to future disaster is a real challenge that I hope someone will take on before this is all said and done.



    • Beautiful, sad post.

      Aug 2, 11 8:47 am  · 

      it's definitely surreal for me donna. 

      Aug 2, 11 10:21 am  · 
      Christopher Sjoberg

      Would be interesting to know details of the cleanup process involved with radioactive contamination at Fukushima. Could the tsunami rubble somehow be recycled and used towards soil remediation processes, water treatment or waste storage...

      Aug 28, 11 4:15 am  · 

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About this Blog

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.

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