New structures maintain community bonds
Ichio Hirayama, a temporary housing resident in Sendai, did not know how to react to the idea of “Minna no Ie (Home-for-All)” when he heard it the first time in June 2011, three months after the massive tsunami wiped out his house, among hundreds of thousands of others.
Now, Home-for-All - a series of simple houses furnished with tables, chairs, stoves and other items so that they function just like lodges for local rural communities in Japan - is “an essential part of our lives,” said Hirayama, the chairman of the local temporary housing residents' association. The residents use it for get-togethers in the evening and various other events.“Temporary housing structures isolate residents from each other,” Hirayama said. “If it weren't for Home-for-All, there would not be enough human interaction.”
This must sound like music to the ears of architect Toyo Ito of Toyo Ito and Associates, Architects, who designed and built the structures.
Ito's contribution is likely to have buoyed the residents in the face of depression, one of common ailments suffered by evacuees of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that devastated Kobe on Jan. 17, 1995, as well as the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.
“I've always thought that modern architecture has become a way to serve architects who want to show off their design skills and technology,” Ito said. “But architecture should serve people who live in it and use it. That is the main concept of Home-for-All.”
A few weeks after the March 11 disaster, Ito established a group with four other architects to help the Tohoku region.
“We thought of creating spaces where evacuees could eat and talk together,” he said. In May, they began collecting donations from around the world.
The name Home-for-All comes from the concept that everybody gets together not only to enjoy themselves, but also to discuss how to rebuild their communities. Also, he meant everybody, including users and designers of the house as well as volunteer workers who helped build it, should put together their efforts and think about the future of the Tohoku region.
Ito and his group built six Home-for-All structures in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. The first Home-for-All was the one in Sendai, which was completed in October 2011.
“It was only a few months after the tsunami, so we didn't have time to think,” Ito said. “We went there several times to talk to residents living in temporary housing and, bit by bit, they gave us requests, like ‘I want an engawa (veranda-like porch)’ or ‘I want a stove.’ ”
In another Home-for-All in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, a five-people team including Ito spent 10 months discussing the design and building the structure.
The discussion process of building Ito's Rikuzentakata home helped the Japan Pavilion earn the Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the Venice Biennale in August 2012.
His team created about 200 miniature models of the planned Home-for-All in the discussion process and displayed 120 of them at the Venice Biennale.
“I think the reason for the award is that the discussion process had lots of energy. That energy was transmitted to visitors to the exhibition,” he said.
Ito's architecture school
Building for people who live in or use a structure not just to build something was the architectural philosophy in mind for Ito as he was preparing to start his architecture school in Tokyo in April 2011.
“I sometimes teach at universities, but I don't have the chance to teach students for whom and for what an architect designs a structure,” he said. “Thus, I wanted to start my school,” called Initiative for Tomorrow's Opportunities in Architecture.
The philosophy of the school, whose students are generally young architects, did not change much before and after the March 11 disaster, Ito said.
“Architects in Japan and the world tend to want to use modern technology and design, and that had worked well until recently,” he said. “But now, I believe such an idea is out of date.
“If architects go for technology, structures in the world will all look similar. But we should rethink the structures that are fit for local places. Even in tsunami-hit areas, different places have different architectural needs,” he said.
The words “concept” and “theme” are often used in architecture classes at a university, but only architects understand them, he said. The goal of his school is to narrow the gap between architects and ordinary people, he said.
Ito said he has been satisfied with his school's achievements as his students now have the mentality to put the priority on those living in or using architectural structures.
Produced by The Japan Times