Architectural lessons from Japan’s 2011 earthquake

May 16, 2013

The Great East Japan Earth­quake of 2011 dev­as­tated much of the Pacific Rim nation, which faced a huge array of chal­lenges in the after­math including wide­spread relo­ca­tion of cit­i­zens who lost their homes and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Now, Japan is sharing the lessons it learned responding to that disaster—now known to many simply by its date, 3/11—with a trav­eling exhi­bi­tion making its sole United States stop at North­eastern. The show, “How Did Archi­tects Respond Imme­di­ately After 3/11?—An Exhi­bi­tion on the Great East Japan Earth­quake,” is on dis­play and open to the public through June 12 in the lobby of Inter­na­tional Village.

This is a kind of oblig­a­tion, to share what we went through during and after the earth­quake with the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity,” Akira Muto, the Japanese consul gen­eral to the United States sta­tioned in Boston, said Tuesday evening at the exhibition’s opening recep­tion. “We wanted not only to engage the experts in the field, but also the students—the young people just get­ting started looking at issues like this. And we hope that it sparks fur­ther col­lab­o­ra­tion between nations on these chal­lenges that we all face.”

The exhi­bi­tion, orga­nized by the Japan Foun­da­tion, was brought to North­eastern by the Con­sulate Gen­eral of Japan in Boston, Northeastern’s Gallery 360, the North­eastern Center for the Arts, and the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design. A meeting last fall between Muto and North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun led to the uni­ver­sity hosting the trav­eling exhibit.

Tuesday’s opening recep­tion fea­tured remarks from Muto and Xavier Costa, dean of the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design. Costa said the exhibit is impor­tant because it shows how archi­tects can play a cru­cial role in emer­gency pre­pared­ness and response.

This exhibit fea­tures a strong com­pi­la­tion of the great chal­lenges Japan faces and how archi­tects can be impor­tant respon­ders to those chal­lenges,” Costa said.

Japan’s loca­tion in the Pacific Ocean makes it par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­tible to nat­ural dis­as­ters like earth­quakes and tsunamis. As a result, the country has his­tor­i­cally paid par­tic­ular atten­tion to dis­aster pre­pared­ness and resiliency, ensuring that the public is pre­pared through reg­ular emer­gency drills and pro­tected by infra­struc­ture able to with­stand mas­sive dis­as­ters, said Susan Gill, who works in the consulate’s infor­ma­tion and cul­ture sec­tion. Though the prepa­ra­tions aren’t always per­fect, Japan believes the lessons they have learned, par­tic­u­larly during and after the 2011 earth­quake, are impor­tant to share with the inter­na­tional community.

The exhibit is split into four sec­tions, doc­u­menting issues of emer­gency pre­pared­ness, tem­po­rary housing, recon­struc­tion projects, and for­eign pro­posals. Its curator, Taro Igarashi, Tohoku Uni­ver­sity pro­fessor of archi­tec­ture and building sci­ence, said the exhi­bi­tion focuses par­tic­u­larly on archi­tec­tural advances after November 2011, show­casing projects intro­duced across Japan.

What you do after a big disaster—an earth­quake, a tsunami, a super­storm, or an act of terror—can be very sim­ilar even if the cause is dif­ferent. Bringing this exhibit and show­casing Japan’s response pro­vides what we hope is an oppor­tu­nity for shared under­standing in thinking about architecture’s role in dis­aster response and resiliency,” Gill said. “It fits in nicely at North­eastern, where people are thinking about these issues and gen­er­ating new ideas and solutions.”