Many people in Fukushima’s coastal city of Soma are still living in temporary housing after their homes were destroyed by the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The city’s proximity to the disabled nuclear power plant has also been a source of chronic fear that discourages the locals to go outdoors – community ties are literally broken.
One initiative to provide relief, the ‘Home-for-All’ or Minna-no-ie, led by renowned Japanese architect Toyo Ito and Klein Dytham architecture, is the building of a series of community lodges across north-east Japan. Our Tokyo office provided pro-bono support to construct the Soma city lodge, which is a playhouse for children and parents to gather and play freely without concern for background radiation levels.
The lodge may look simple but its design intent is essentially user-oriented. It is immediately recognised by its 16m diameter timber lattice canopy – resembling a giant straw hat that shelters Soma’s children from the harsh rays of sun. Japanese larch was chosen as the main building materials as it is an indigenous species but also suitably priced. Most importantly, it is a highly pliable wood that can be bent on site when constructing the interweaving wooden structure that forms the signature roof.
As it is designed to be an ‘indoor park’, the supporting columns are also humorously crafted into the shape of trees with owls and squirrels sitting on the branches. Children will feel as though they are playing in a forest, even if they cannot play outside.
The lodge was handed over to the local community in February 2015, providing a much needed social setting for local families to gather and raise each other’s spirit. The children now can go about their youthful endeavours safely and happily.