Kesennuma 22 November 2016

Early earthquake warning at 6.02am: my phone screams ‘Jishin desu – Jishin Desu’

While I sit puzzled wondering if this is a test – the earth starts shaking. Considerably, but minor in my experience. I check on the students, a few are panicked and running outside. Mr. Kato – Hotel Boyo President – is reassuring our safety.

Cars start pulling up to the hillside hotel.

Sirens howling, the first Tsunami alarm since 3/2011.

The 7.3M earthquake and aftershocks trigger a stream of messages: “Tsunami relocate to higher ground immediately”. All messages are in Japanese only, non-Japanese speakers (RMIT group) are confused.

NHK TV reports – bilingual information.


Message by my friend telling me about Fukushima – I chose not to tell students. Luckily this is resolved half an hour later.

We leave Kesennuma – Residents remain observing the situation in the bay.

Hashikami time scale analysis

Hashikami site investigation timescale analysis 1947 – 2015. Source data: Japan Air Photo, Google Earth.

The time scale analysis shows the of growth and destruction of Hashikami, highlighting the particular vulnerability of settlements built in the post WWII economic growth period.

In the 2011 and 1947 mappings settlement, vegetation and waterbodies are strikingly similar.

2011 – Dotted area: inundated area, central remaining building structure Hashikami Fishery High-school.


1947 – Dark area: saltpan/ lagoon. Dotted area: wetlands, hashed area: forest and dune vegetation, settlement structure.

Hashikami Japan Air Photo Annotated, 2015

Launching 2016 RMIT Landscape Architecture Design Research Studio : affective geometries

Hashikami Koyo Koko – Site for the third RMIT LA traveling studio in Tohoku

Launching the third installment of an RMIT Landscape Architecture travel studio forthcoming in November 2016, I am (re)discovering my design lineage in Naito Hiroshi who I was fortunate enough to have supervise my PhD.

An overarching hypothesis for the studio is embedded in the idea formulated by Hiroshi Naito who describes the relationship between detail construction, craftsmanship, material and landscape in the concept of “Protoscape”. Naito argues for timeless and purposeful Architecture informed by materiality and detail – specific to each landscape.

“I would like to bring landscape to reside in the details, and to place architecture in an intermediate position between landscape and materials through a perpetual shifting between landscape and materials, in the design process.

To design is none other than to depict the character of the landscape seeking expression in the details.”

Hiroshi Naito, Innerscape

The site for the design exploration is Hashikami Koyo Koko , a site with a potential to inform a new understanding of the relationship of site, landscape, material and form in an affective geometry.

Hashikami Shore

Naito Sensei taught me to observe detail and see relationships emerge; this not only in physical but more so in metaphysical relations of legislative boundaries and ways of which those can be overcome through forms.

Niki Club Stage Kagami [Mirror] – Hiroshi Naito

Hashikami – confirming a working hypothesis

Hashikami is the site for a design project that looks at literally learning form the past:
I have sourced aerial photos form 1947 onward to trace landscape patterns, built environment, water systems to understand the relationship of growth over the past 70 years into vulnerable areas.

This is a first raw image of the 1947 vegetation pattern and housing and a 2011 aerial image.

hashikami draft 01

The light blue squares are 1947 building plots, 2011 mostly unharmed. The vegetation pattern of trees (red outline) established in the 1947 illustrates the deforestation in the post WWII period.


In the context of future proofing the vulnerable coastlines of Japan, the conundrum of controlled risk puts before us a choice:

A choice to control risk by constructing a seemingly reliable type of infrastructure such as a high enough wall which might serve a purpose of redirecting potentially deadly swells of ocean. Main questions that arise and are probably unanswerable: how high for any type of protection and where to is the water redirected?

New York Times of March 13th 2011: Seawalls Offered Little Protection Against Tsunami’s Crushing Waves

Considering the risk of failure in concrete terms I looked at what happened in Fukushima on the day of the Tsunami. What I pieced together through a few articles showed that the design of the plant’s emergency back up power generator actually caused the crucial cooling system to fail in reactors 1-4. Reactors 5 and 6 were designed at a later stage and there the back up generators were inside the reinforced reactor building.


Even though the events in Fukushima are not complex at all, they are clearly caused by a lack of integration of risk, it becomes evident that control might be a dangerous illusion.