Rikuzentakata City Community Hall

Masaki Nakayama(Principal Architect)/ Yoshiki Miyazaki(Architectural Department)/ Shuichiro Mitomo(Architectural Department)

Designing hope for reconstruction and ease of use.

A donation from Singapore started the process.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, donations were received within Japan and from around the world. Singapore was among the donating countries. However, the way that Singapore delivered this donation was different from that of other countries. Principal Architect Masaki Nakayama explains how the project started. “We received a donation from the Singapore Red Cross that was made with the request that it be put to use for something concrete that would show how the donation was used to support recovery. During the summer after the earthquake, a non-profit organization called Aid TAKATA held a photo exhibition in Tokyo that showed terrible scenes of the disaster in Rikuzentakata City. The Singaporean Ambassador attended this exhibition and met the mayor of Rikuzentakata. The Ambassador asked what was the one thing they needed the most and the mayor replied that they needed a place for people to gather. They had finally erected temporary accommodation but they did not yet have anywhere to create a sense of community.”

Upon the recommendation by Singapore, Tange Associates was put in charge of design.

Singapore agreed with the mayor’s proposal for a community center and it was decided that the donations collected in Singapore would be used for construction costs. Nakayama says that it was Singapore that recommended Tange Associates for the construction. “I think there was confidence in our company because we had done a lot of work in Singapore in the past. The proposal was also approved by Rikuzentakata and we were put in charge of the project.”

Emphasis on design of a user-friendly building.

The Rikuzentakata City Community Hall project started with the goodwill of Singapore. So that area residents could visit casually and freely, Nakayama and his team decided to prioritize ease of use as well as functionality of the building. He explains, “After the earthquake, there was no public space in the city where people could gather. In difficult times, interaction and conversation between people are important. Connections with people soothe the mind and create hope for the future. For this reason, our objective was to provide a space where people could drop in and meet on a daily basis, where they could feel a sense of community.”

Nakayama adds that ease of use was important in the design. “We built a facility with a multi-purpose hall, conference rooms, Japanese-style rooms, and a kitchen. We thought that a multi-purpose hall with a capacity of 400 was unlikely to be used on a regular basis and that it was more likely that the conference and Japanese-style rooms would be used more frequently, so we decided to split it into two separate volumes under one roof. The design clearly divided the space in such a way that it could be seen and understood at a glance. In addition, we had the idea of using glass extensively to produce a sense of unity with the park in front as well as to enhance visibility of what kind of facilities the building contains, who is in the building, and what they are doing.”

The design team knew that they were on the right track when they received the following comment from one of the local residents: “When I went into a local café I was asked what kind of building was going to be built on the site. When I replied that it was going to be a community hall, the person said, “Oh, thank goodness. I hope you build a place that is easy to use and where people can just drop by.” Nakayama adds, “Once again we were convinced that a facility with usability for all, including children, the elderly, and non-Japanese residents was exactly what was needed for it to be used to its full potential.”

Giving shape to the presence of the sea.

Rikuzentakata City Community Hall is built on elevated ground and looks out over the sea. Nakayama tells us that this project, as with others, reflects the Tange Associates concept of “Design that takes advantage of the features of the location.” He explains, “The site was originally on a hill so we cut away the earth and prepared a new site. We avoided building right on the coast because of the realistic fear of another tsunami. If we had built on the other side of the hill, it would have been safe from a tsunami but it would lack the feeling of the sea. Since the people of Rikuzentakata have always lived with Hirota Bay in the background, we thought it important to maintain a connection with the sea. This is why we decided to create a design which took into consideration the sea even though it was on a hill. For example, the park’s main axis was designed to lead to Hirota Bay.”

After the earthquake, the region.

The project progressed smoothly and the company reported regularly to the Singapore side. However, Nakayama says that there were difficulties typical to the project in a post-earthquake region and inconveniences typical of an area in recovery. “In the wake of the earthquake, the price of materials and labor gradually rose. These were unexpected rises, but we could not increase the budget so we adjusted the construction area and part of the plan. We didn’t have all the engineers we needed either. In addition, if it had been a project in Tokyo, construction would have been relatively easy, but in a disaster-stricken area, things took longer due to lack of manpower and other factors. Architecture is a job that makes dreams a reality but achieving these dreams means coming face to face with issues in reality. In particular, this was a project based on a donated recovery budget so the key was how to complete it as efficiently as we could. It is true that it was a very delicate project due the timing after an earthquake, the role of recovery support, and the location of the region.”

Complete. Then continue. This is the significance of the project.

Having said that, Nakayama and his team strongly believed that completion of this project would provide encouragement to the community. “I think this Community Center project carried on the TANGE DNA+ in the way that Kenzo Tange worked on the design of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Although he wanted to forget this terrible event, Kenzo Tange believed that it was important to preserve what needed to be preserved and pass it on to future generations. I think that the Rikuzentakata City Community Hall project was the same. It was a significant project that was truly necessary to the people in the community. It is important to make sure that the memories of the Great East Japan Earthquake do not fade even after work is completed. From the start of the work on Rikuzentakata City Community Hall, during and after construction, we submitted proposals for the future master plan of the city. These were master plans that around the theme of “the miracle lone pine tree.” We intend to pursue these master plans into the future. Just as recovery support will never end, our thoughts towards Rikuzentakata City will never end and we would like to continue to make proposals to improve the townscape and create, along with the local residents, a city in which the earthquake and the lessons learned from it never fade.” It can be said that the thoughts of Tange Associates and the Nakayama team have reached the people of Rikuzentakata. This is because even today, the citizens exchange smiles and the rooms of Rikuzentakata City Community Hall ring with their laughter.

Rikuzentakata City Community Hall