Dozens of award winners this year pertain to the Focused Issue of preventing, mitigating, or recovering from disasters. Some directly support disaster recovery, such as public hous-ing built in affected areas like Kamaishi or Iriya-Minamisanriku, or the new Senseki Tohoku railway line. Others respond to Fukushima by offering hydrogen- or solar-powered energy solutions or superior solar panel mounts. Still others run the gamut from safe building materials (non-flammable stretch ceilings, fireproof mid-rise wooden housing platforms, doors that keep rising water out, and sturdy, grid-like walls) to safety products (a fire extinguisher and an emergency, hand-cranked radio) to systems affording some kind of assurance (termite insurance for certain construction methods, models of tempo-rary housing for small communities, a business continuity plan, a business model promot-ing renovation of older buildings, and a skyscraper emergency control center).
Overall, a surprising number of entries were focused on community design. Examples in-clude a smart community, a humanitarian Tohoku project that produces traditionally bound notebooks, disaster awareness materials for condominiums, a café in a devastated area, student-inspired community-building activities, a project to ease relocation, and ap-plying lessons learned from Japan’s disaster to help those in Nepal. One reason may be because recovery is proceeding slowly, even four years after the disaster, and it has been easier to deal with the intangibles of recovery than with the tangibles. This response also reflects how those in architecture and other design disciplines have taken the opportunity of 3/11 to focus on community issues.
Over the course of evaluation, though, fewer and fewer qualified entries remained as we passed the second screening and selected the Best 100. In fact, there were few truly out-standing entries. Although the significance of entries was apparent, there was still room for improvement in the quality of this design to prevent, mitigate, and recover from disas-ters. The primary challenge in this field therefore lies in improving design quality. Quality can also be improved in community design. One thing to look forward to are attempts at changing the rather staid, practical image of disaster-related design.
A serious cause for concern arises when one sees conditions in disaster areas firsthand as I can, based in Sendai. Some of those ordering the construction are not interested in apply-ing good design principles and making their work known, through the media. It would be regrettable if this trend prevented outstanding recovery projects from being entered in the award program. These organizers wish to avoid attracting media attention and criticism from being seen as prospering from tragedy. Under this prevailing atmosphere, they prefer not to disturb the status quo of evacuees living in the humble, box-like dwellings generally expected. Rather than being praised for exceeding expectations within a limited budget, good design work might be criticized as being excessive. The new national stadium to be built in Tokyo for the Olympics has caused a similar stir. Ultimately, the original proposal was abandoned not on the grounds of design quality but from the perception that cheaper would be better.
Considering the tenor of our times, the program must ensure that the promise of good de-sign, as we publicly celebrate in winning entries, is also recognized in disaster areas. Good design does not inflate budgets; it puts us in a better position to use things, which we come to appreciate. Of course, this has always been an ideal of the program, but we must now prove that we can truly convey it to society.