The involvement of architects in redeveloping the many towns and cities affected by March 11’s Great East Japan Earthquake and the resulting tsunami is not as common as might be expected.

Rather, local governments are primarily partnering for such work with civil engineering firms.

However, in addition to ArchiAid’s work on the Oshika Peninsula in Miyagi Prefecture on the northeast coast of Honshu, there are a few architects at work on the ground in the stricken Tohoku region — including two of the biggest names in the business.

In central Kamaishi, where key port facilities, hundreds of businesses and more than 1,300 houses were washed away or damaged, Toyo Ito has been brought in by city officials to help formulate plans for redevelopment.

Ito, who is renowned worldwide for buildings such as the Sendai Mediatheque in Miyagi’s prefectural capital and the Kaohsiung National Stadium in Taiwan, is volunteering his time and expertise as an adviser to the city government on redevelopment. He told The Japan Times by email that this involves “synthesizing the desires of the city with those of the citizens.”

Meanwhile, in the Miyagi Prefecture city of Higashimatsushima, the architecture firm SANAA, whose principals Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa were last year awarded the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize — which is often dubbed the Nobel Prize in that field — is working on a voluntary basis with residents on the island of Miyato, west of the Oshika Peninsula.

At a talk organized by architects’ network ArchiAid last week, Kuniyuki Okuda, who heads the Miyato Residents’ Center, said that to date the plans involve relocating houses in several villages to higher, safer ground. He also registered how impressed he was with the way SANAA staff have been so conscientious about walking around the island and listening to locals’ concerns.

“We had nothing,” Okuda told his audience at the talk, which was held in Yokohama.

“But people have just come out of nowhere to help us — volunteers helping with clearing debris and now SANAA, helping make plans for rebuilding.”

Okuda went on to say that the next phase of the process will be to amalgamate the SANAA plans with those of the Higashimatsushima City government and its team of civil engineers. The city plans to publish its final reconstruction plan in December.

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