Practicing with Crises in Mind
If desperate times truly call for desperate measures, then arguably we should consider reconstruction and resiliency as two important components in designing and planning our communities.
Not only do crises put the literal notion of performance of building and construction under examination, but they also highlight architecture as a cultural practice—able to address societal needs while providing a backbone for building infrastructures. Placemaking is therefore inseparable from risk, thus design and construction process should actively engage with it.
A handful of well-known designers have taken on a model of practice that engages with risk and crises, for example the offices of Shigeru Ban and Alejandro Aravena. Ban’s practice in Tokyo is widely known to operate on two fronts simultaneously. One is the design office that executes commercially profitable projects, and another that focuses on voluntary pro bono projects for humanitarian architecture in collaboration with organizations such as the United Nations.
Academic-practitioners such as KMDW (Kobayashi Maki Design Workshop), combines practice with applied academic research. Their CNC-cut prefab timber construction research, in collaboration with their Keio University students, resulted in the Maeamihama Veneer House.
Besides conducting his personal research on the social aspect of reconstruction, Yoshihiro Hiraoka also organizes a research and design experience for a group of students working with a specific local community in Tohoku, including with Professor Shun Kanda who initiated the annual Massachusetts Institute of Technology 3.11 Design Workshop.
After the reconstruction period in Tamil Nadu was over, Durganand Balsavar, who designed the tsunami nagars in Nagapattinam and the Mattampatinam, still continues to conduct research on crisis management such as during the recent Kerala flood. Snigdha Sanyal, Suresh Dash, and Eduardo Aguirre have all continued to inspire their students to explore and understand land risks associated with design at Indian Institute of Technology Bhubaneswar and Talca University respectively.
Single Shock, Multiple Reconstructions
The aftermath of a shock will always remind us how interconnected these events and their impacts are. During the 1960 earthquake in Valdivia, countries as far as Japan directly felt the tremor, while in 2011 the wave from Tohoku tsunami sent debris to the Chilean coasts. Each time a local tectonic plate shifts, the crust of the Earth is globally reconfigured. In a way, each event can also be understood as a warning of the next big unexpected shock on its way. The New Yorker article from July 2015 highlights the anticipated earthquake, referred to as “The Big One,” predicted to hit the Pacific Northwest of the US in the near future. The article, backed by scientific research and based on real evidence of the recurring shocks behavior has triggered a series of architect-led grassroots initiatives in teaching survival skills in different neighborhoods, for example in downtown Portland.
To understand risk and crisis is inherently a call to learn about culture, geography, and people. Therefore, it is not far-fetched that architects and urbanists should actively take on more field research. With many places set on a course in learning to be resilient, it is imperative that we view reconstructions as opportunities in restrengthening a community through a transformative and expanded architectural and urban design mindset.