Considering Design Solutions for Japan’s Earthquake Recovery
March 11, 2011
As you have been reading this morning, the biggest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale hit off the eastern coast today, causing a massive tsunami and in its wake, widespread destruction (“waves swept across rice fields, engulfed towns, dragged houses onto highways, tossed cars and boats like toys”) six miles inland in the Miyagi Prefecture.
Miyagi’s capital of Sendai, where 200-300 people have been reported dead by local police, is a city of one million famous for two big reasons in the architecture world: one, it’s the birthplace of architect Hiroshi Abe (b. 1962) and two,Toyo Ito’s celebrated Sendai Mediatheque was built here, finished in 2001. Ten years later, it remains to be seen what is left of the transparent box floating six steel-ribbed slabs whose impact on engineering, aesthetics, and community are undisputed.
But suffice it to say, this is about more than just one building.
In recent years, following disasters in New Orleans and Haiti, architects across the globe have responded with due diligence to innovate temporary shelters, relief infrastructure, and longer-term housing solutions for devastated communities. Of course, it takes time to build, so how we can mobilize these technological and material solutions now?
Here are a few of the issues to address in the coming days, weeks, months, and years:
Damage to Infrastructure
Dramatic video shot at Sendai Airport, which has a single runway that receives about 40 flights per day. The Aviation Herald says that the entire airport (2-7 meters above sea level) is under water following tsunami waves of up to 15 meters in height.
Tokyo’s Narita airport, also now closed, is located within the most highly-concentrated tsunami region following today’s earthquake that was centered off the coast of Japan, about 230 miles away from the nation’s capital, Tokyo. More than 20,000 travelers are currently stranded at Tokyo airports.
One thing to keep in mind: Japan has one of the strictest national building codes in the world, for this very reason. The New York Times has some interesting details on how preparedness may have saved the country from a much higher casualty rate.
Video footage of towers in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo following the earthquake.
Via CNN, Japan’s Kyodo News Service is reporting that 60,000 to 70,000 in Sendai alone have been evacuated to emergency shelters.
The same CNN dispatch reports that “Japanese authorities ordered the precautionary evacuation of the area around a nuclear plant affected by the earthquake, saying that while there was no immediate danger, crews were having trouble cooling the reactor. The Fukushima plant is one of four closest to the quake that the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said were safety shut down.” Residents have been advised to evacuate.
An oil refinery was burning in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo, according to NHK, and firefighters could not get close enough to fight it because of the heat. And Kyodo said fires could be seen in extensive areas of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture.
According to Platts Energy Analysis, “in a knee-jerk reaction to the quake, April Brent crude futures fell by $2.60/b while the yen fell sharply against the dollar and regional stock markets tumbled.” Additionally, key ports in the Tokyo Bay area also suspended operations, shipping sources said.
Bloomberg News spoke to Nouriel Roubini, the economist who predicted the global financial crisis, who said that “the earthquake in Japan comes at the ‘worst time’ as the country struggles to lower its budget deficit.”
Aftershocks from the tsunami are expected to cause tidal waves to up to 50 countries around the Pacific Rim and as far away as Oregon and Russia. “When such an earthquake impacts a developed country like Japan, our concern also turns to countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, which might not have the same resources,” said Rachel Wolff, a spokeswoman for World Vision.
How can we help and stay informed?
• Google has put together an earthquake crisis response page for those in Japan, including local weather warnings, disaster bulletin boards, and blackout warnings.
• Google has also programmed a searchable Person Finder database.
• The International Red Cross and Red Crescent says the Japanese Red Cross hasn’t asked for assistance yet, but keep your eyes on their site for ways to potentially help with the relief efforts soon.
• Save the Children is already accepting donations for the relief efforts aimed at Japanese families and kids in affected regions.
• The US Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services, has established a contact line at 1-888-407-4747, 202 647-5225, or send an email to JapanEmergencyUSC@state.gov, for inquiries on US citizens in Japan.
• The State Department issued a travel alert strongly urging U.S. citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan.
And for large format images, see Boston.com’s The Big Picture.