LA Australia Article by Hayden Matthys

Brilliant writing by Hayden Matthys, RMIT MLA student who came to Japan on the Affective Geometries tour, published in LA Australia:

The vast concrete seawalls and breakwaters being built by the Japanese government in response to the 2011 tsunami will have major implications for the social, economic and environmental sustainability of many traditional fishing villages.

“There are many words for ‘I’ in Japanese,” says Yu Nakai Sensei, professor at Tokyo University’s Civic Landscape Design Lab, during a presentation to visiting students.

“The word changes depending on … where you are and who you are with. Family, friends, at work, meeting someone, so many different [versions of ‘I’]. So you can see how there is a difficulty of individual identity in favour of a local community identity, and how in light of this, relationships between people and place become extremely important in the understanding of oneself.”

In late 2016 a group of students from RMIT University’s Landscape Architecture and Master of Disaster, Design and Development programs that travelled to Japan as part of a research program coordinated by Marieluise Jonas, senior lecturer in landscape architecture RMIT University, in collaboration with Masao Hijikata Sensei, lead consultant of disaster research at Waseda University. The Affective Geometries design research studio saw us investigate post-2011 tsunami Japan and contribute to the sensitive rebuilding of devastated towns.

Before travelling to Japan we had spent the past few months working on designs for a designated memorial park for the tsunami-hit town of Hashikami, in the Sannohe District of south-eastern Aomori Prefecture in the Tohoku region. Nakai Sensei’s words articulated an idea that I had previously taken for granted, something that is often preached but not practiced in the design professions – the importance of working with the identity of place.

In Tokyo we toured the Japanese landscape: we saw handcrafted buildings whose structural integrity improves through earthquakes, witnessed incredible wooden and stone detailing, took in shrines, temples and gardens with ritual and tradition woven into their architecture, and meandered through streets born not of a grand planning scheme but through the organic growth of an ancient city. Places that had care and purpose in all aspects of their being. It was this same care and thought that we expected to see in the reconstruction of the site at Hashikami and in the surrounding Tohoku region. What we found, however, was a design approach devoid of consideration for the places in which it was meant to provide a solution.

The Japanese government has implemented two policies in response to the Great East Japan earthquake; one of group relocation – moving residents to temporary housing on higher ground; and one of disaster prevention – building concrete seawalls and breakwaters along the coast. There are significant issues with both these approaches, and both have been met with resistance from local landowners and communities who have been unable to return to their homes to work and rebuild as their land is currently being used to house vast amounts of soil and machinery for the seawall project. The government’s policy seeks to secure the Japanese coast prior to any community reconstruction, which now five years after the disaster, has had huge implications for the social, economic and environmental sustainability of many traditional fishing villages along the coast.

The seawall response has created the illusion of recovery, an elaborate parlour trick hiding the underlying problem of a country whose urbanization has now expanded to low-lying areas, displacing the generations of knowledge and stories embedded in the landscape. However, instead of learning from the planning mistakes of the past fifty years, the government has offered a one-size-fits-all approach to the problem, not of how to better design and work with natural disasters, but rather how we can “protect” against them through engineered solutions. This illusion of protection and lack of connection to place became utterly apparent at Rikuzentakata, where we were lucky enough to talk to one of the engineers behind the seawall project and even have a tour of the wall itself. From on top of the wall, the devastation left by the tsunami is still clearly visible. We learned of plans to reestablish a local pine forest and construct a tourist walk around the seawall, alongside land-raising with soil taken from the surrounding mountains. This so-called solution – bringing commerce and people back to Rikuzentakata – will essentially isolate the town from the very part of the landscape that brought people to live there in the first place: the sea.

Hashikami, the town we were working in, had a slightly different story to that of Rikuzentakata. Here the seawall and land-raising project had been slowed, if not halted, by community outcry in favour of a solution that would work with the residents to build a future in which they could once again live in harmony with the ocean and protect their identity of place. We were invited to share our own design ideas at a workshop with the Hashikami community, as a way of offering new perspectives on the reconstruction of their town. Through this we were privileged to hear many incredibly moving stories from people who had lost so much, and for the first time it truly felt that we were part of something far more important than ourselves – that we were dealing with people’s lives and livelihoods and that what we designed could truly make a difference.

Hayden (writing notes) after presentation at Waseda University with team mates Jack and Natalie and Hijikata Sensei



RMIT University News

RMIT University News Story on the 2016 field studio

Satoru Nagayama leading a tour in Rikuzentakada. Here discussing design of memorial park for Rikuzentakada while standing on top of the newly constructed seawall.

The Affective Geometries design studio gave students from the Master of Landscape Architecture and Master of Disaster, Design and Development the chance to make contributions to the development of a designated memorial park in Hashikami, which is part of the city of Kesennuma in northern Japan.

Design studios are taught in small groups and challenge students to apply technical, theoretical and professional skills in a collaborative environment.

The memorial park site surrounds the ruins of a former high school devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded to have hit Japan since record-keeping began in 1900.

The studio was the third in a series of travelling studios working with post-disaster sites in Japan’s Tohoku region that are part of an ongoing research partnership between RMIT and Waseda University.

Waseda University’s disaster research is led by Professor Masao Hijikata, who is a lead consultant for regional planning in the city of Kesennuma.

Students researched local construction and material details to inform their designs and developed a range of small spaces that combined to form the overall memorial park project.

Solutions included the creation of hills that can act as refugee sites in case of future tsunamis, and at other times offer residents sweeping views across the landscape.

Other spaces were designed to offer comfort and contemplation, positioned for optimal sunrise and sunset viewing.

Dr Marieluise Jonas, Senior Lecturer in Landscape Architecture and leader of the studio tour, said all of the spaces were strategically connected and designed to anticipate future development and vegetation growth.

“The local reconstruction committee and Professor Hijikata were very impressed by the design ability of the RMIT students,” she said.

“The next stage of the project now underway is a regional revitalisation plan where the student work will be considered for further development and implementation on the site.”

The studio group got an unexpected real-world demonstration of Japan’s disaster response when a magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck Tohoku while they were staying in nearby Kesennuma.

“We were awoken by the early warning system about 30 seconds before the earthquake struck. It triggered a tsunami warning and we were then able to experience first hand how the system works.

“The hotel where we were located is situated on high ground and served as a disaster evacuation shelter in 2011. We were able to observe locals assembling in front of the hotel and chat to them about their experiences.”

Jonas said that the Japan tour gave students invaluable real-world experience with disaster response, an important and sensitive area of landscape architecture practice.

“Students experienced the fragility of life, and witnessed traces of full-scale eradication of lives and livelihoods at vast scale – something they may have never seen or encountered in their lives.

“They witnessed the limitation of human control over the forces of Earth, and through their design work demonstrated sensitivity to acceptance and the need for adaptation – which will inform their futures as landscape architects.”

Thank you Satoru Nagayama for the tour in Rikuzentakada!


RMIT Landscape Architecture Design Studio_Affective Geometries Presentation in Hashikami

The RMIT Landscape Architecture Design Studio ‘Affective Geometries’ was set out to produce design propositions to be presented to the local reconstruction and machizukuri council in Hashikami. After a few weeks of development and design work in Melbourne, 5 teams of students presented their work at the Hashikami community center gymnasium.


Collaborative translation between Professor Hijikata and myself, the design drawings and models offered new perspectives.

Passage – Reuben Hore-Waterhouse
The Hill – Thomas Flugge

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.

RMIT Landscape Architecture Design Studio_Affective Geometries in Japan

2016 RMIT University Upper Pool Design Research Studio : Affective Geometries in Japan

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RMIT Landscape Architecture Design Studio_Affective Geometries

Affective Geometries Preview

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 Design Studio is at mid-point: the work has been positioned and we have exhibited the working models.

Now we are packing up to travel to Japan!

Follow us here for updates on the joint Studio and MoDDD study tour.

Thomas Flugge
Hayden Matthys
Reuben Hore-Waterhouse

RMIT LA/Tokyo University Keikan Lab Workshop Confirmed

What is the future of the built environment if we are cannibalizing each other? If we don’t know what the future society looks like with or without landscape architects? What the  philosophy is that we are building for the future? How we can communicate globally to act for one aim: securing the future?

The 2016 RMIT Upper Pool Design Research Studio Affective Geometries will be working with Keikan Lab to bring a global perspective to these questions.

Persons in the video:

Osamu Shinohara Sensei – Professor Emeritus Tokyo Civic Landscape Lab

Yu Nakai Sensei – Professor Tokyo University Civic Landscape Lab

Yoshiyuki Kawazoe – Associate Professor The University of Tokyo, fellow alumnus Keikan Lab

Hiroshi Naito – Professor Emeritus Tokyo University Civic Landscape Lab, Architect