RMIT landscape architecture students collaborated with local NGOs and community to create a memorial landscape park to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Kesennuma, Japan.
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.”
Story: Bradley Dixon