It’s only been 3 months since a devastating earthquake and tsunami ripped through Japan, but the horrifying images have already begun to fade from the news and the public’s mind – a situation that unfortunately isn’t rare following these types of catastrophic events. But as fewer and fewer mentions of the disaster appear in the media and donations have stopped pouring in, the fact remains that thousands of Japanese are still homeless or living in emergency shelters without a real roof over their heads. Just because we no longer see photos of these displaced people on the five o’clock news doesn’t mean that they’ve stopped suffering.
Fortunately, there are groups of talented and passionate people making it their job to help and rebuild, such as design non-profit Architecture For Humanity. AFH members have been hard at work collecting donations and trying to help the Japanese people rebuild their homes and communities by initiating local design-build projects that have a big social and community impact. One such project currently underway is the rebuilding of the Hikado Marketplace in Motoyoshi, Japan, which is a community marketplace for food and drink vendors made from debris wood scavenged from the tsunami. Read on to see how the marketplace came to be and how it is returning the lives of the citizens of Motoyoshi back to normalcy, one beam at a time.
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FROM THE RUBBLE RISES HIKADO MARKETPLACE The project started when AFH design fellow Hiromi Tabei and a colleague were dispatched to Motoyoshi to see what could be done there to alleviate the small fishing community’s troubles after the tsunami, which ranged from destroyed homes to being unable to work because many boats were also demolished. 50 temporary housing units had already been planned for the area so the decision was made that what the villagers really needed was a place to gather, converse, maybe grab a beer or some tea, and regain some sense of normalcy at a time that simply could not be called normal. The plan developed further to include food stands and a wooden deck, all facing a beach that is, at last, peaceful – a sign that maybe things could get back to how they once were.
The marketplace, which will act as the new community center for the village, is being built out of materials that once made up the homes that stood there. Team members have been collecting things like wooden beams, some over 100 years old, and shingles to reuse on the marketplace. Aside from being much more sustainable than trucking in new materials from elsewhere, the act of using these salvaged pieces of wreckage symbolizes theresourcefulness and resiliency of the Japanese people. As Americans say, “When life gives you lemons…make lemonade” the Japanese might now say “When a tsunami leaves you with scattered pieces of wood…use them to rebuild your town.”
We spoke to Tabei, who was born in Japan and came to the US to study cartography and architecture, about the marketplace and she sounded confident that it would be completed in a timely fashion. “We’re working with some really talented carpenters,” she explained. Many of the craftspeople they’ve employed are local, making the project even more personal, with the workers knowing that their friends and family are counting on them to get the marketplace up and running. We’ve read that Tabei herself, who is based in San Francisco, gets to work in the morning and doesn’t leave until “Japan wakes up”.
Though definitely still a work in progress, the marketplace is coming together nicely and there is even a mobile ramen noodle shop (run by a Hatakeyama-san) that is already up and running. Several of the neighborhood shops that had their storefronts destroyed by the tsunami have already signed up for stalls in the new marketplace. The unofficial deadline for the project is August, when the townspeople hold their annual summer festival, and from the sound of it, they’ll have a lovely new deck overlooking the ocean surrounded by tasty treats to celebrate it on.
As a website whose motto is “Design Will Save the World,” we can’t think of a more fitting example than Architecture for Humanity’s work of what we mean when we say that. Thank you to Yahoo! for making our 10K donation to this incredible organization possible.
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