There is an irony here. Fuchigami noted that the Design for Good movement as many define it—pro-bono design for disaster or impoverished areas—is not a prominent approach within Japan, but that many Japanese architects are active in its implementation abroad. Shigeru Ban, for example, one of the most famous architects in the world, provides his expertise and leads projects in disaster-stricken areas all around the world, including Rwanda, China, Haiti, etc.
Within Japan, however, and especially after the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, this definition cannot quite apply. Fuchigami told us that the government has not approached architects for their help nor expertise, and to a certain extent, is restricting their ability to aid in reconstruction. It instead partners with large construction and engineering companies that have extensive design sections. Fuchigami calls this a “very bad custom,” one in which produces “monotonous and tasteless” buildings, and homes that provide narrow living spaces, only exacerbating the mental and emotional instability of disaster victims. Architects, on the other hand, want to design more “open and easier-living style houses.”
Unfortunately, the government is making this very difficult; instead, preferring quick action that ensures a speedy recovery and immediate relief. Architecture, in its nature, takes time. Architects “design in detail,” to produce something beautiful, intricate, and conducive to sustainable and “easy-living.” Consequently, the government opts for immediacy rather than intricacy, and ends up with simple and mundane plans. However, as we saw with New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the fastest response is not always the best. FEMA sought a quick solution with temporary trailers to house the massive displaced populations. This resulted in trailer parks with populations of up to 10,000, and where there was found, as the Huffington Post noted, “astounding rates of depression, anxiety and hopelessness.” Nearly half of these trailer park residents reported “serious signs of emotional and behavioral distress” and a deep anxiety about the unsafe conditions. Although immediate action is obviously necessary in the aftermath of a disaster, engaging specialists, like architects, whose expertise lends itself to avoiding these types of negative externalities could greatly reduce their severity.
Unfortunately, because of the Japanese government’s unwillingness to engage architects, they forced to act on their own, to “do everything for themselves,” says Fuchigami, which can be very difficult and costly, especially for young designers. As of yet, the majority of reconstruction work being done by architects is concentrated on the community outreach side—a common element of the design for good movement—holding symposiums, studying the conditions of the disaster areas, and meeting with disaster victims.
Fuchigami admits that he and many architects worry that “all of the construction of East Japan will be covered by [these] monotonous houses,” that there is a need for “power and innovative ideas,” primarily from young architects. He notes that, “older architects have power.” They have friends in the government and greater resources to be able to enter disaster areas privately. Young architects do not. That is why Fuchigami decided to hold an exhibition that highlighted the most prominent and up-and-coming young architects in Japan and their plans for reconstruction.
From his list of about 80 leading Japanese young architects, Fuchigami selected 8 architects, and asked them to submit innovative models and drawings of earthquake and tsunami resistant structures, including homes, harbors, fishing villeges, etc. Their models and drawings were exhibited in the center of Tokyo. Garnering much media attention, the exhibition attracted viewers across the political spectrum, including a previous member of the House of Representatives. Impressed by what he saw, he asked Fuchigami to speak to the House members to educate them about reconstruction and in hopes of gathering support for these ideas, and possibly the necessary resources to ensure their implementation. Fuchigami and three of his exhibited architects, whose designs he deemed particularly innovative and future-oriented, lectured to a large audience. However, months later, they have yet to receive a response.
Although the lecture before the House failed to gather any sort of implementation assistance, Fuchigami still sees it as a success, for his exhibition, and for the future of Japanese reconstruction. He asserts that, “we left something in their minds,” that this project is the only of its kind, and its popularity is spreading throughout Japan. More and more students are holding symposiums and the exhibition is being moved to Sendai, an area destroyed by the tsunami.