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Renowned Japanese Architect Discusses Contributions to 3/11 Recovery and Rebuilding with Community Engagement

Toyo Ito: Architecture’s Direction Post-March 11

Monday, October 15, 2012, 6:30 pm, at Japan Society

New York, NY – Almost 20 months after Japan’s northeast coast was devastated by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, most areas are only in the planning stages of reconstruction with much of the affected population still in temporary housing or displaced.

In Toyo Ito: Architecture’s Direction Post-March 11,Toyo Ito, commissioner of the Golden Lion-winning Japan Pavilion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, appears at Japan Society to discuss the impact architecture can have on surviving disaster and rebuilding communities. He’ll touch on how to rethink future towns and building practices, and speaks about his conversations with victims of the 3/11 disasters and the renewed importance of human-to-human and human-to-nature bonds in architecture. Co-sponsored by Fashion Girls for Japan, the discussion takes place Monday, October 15, 6:30 pm at Japan Society, and is followed by a reception. 

In an extensive feature on post-disaster architecture a year after the earthquake, Ito told the Asahi Shimbun, “For some time, I had been thinking about blurring the line that divides architecture into inside and outside. I was seeking a relationship with the townscape, a connection with nature. Now is the time for me to actually implement that philosophy and develop it.”

Ito, who has been heading several recovery and rebuilding projects throughout the region, discusses two major projects at his Japan Society appearance. His reconstruction proposal for Kamaishi City in Iwate Prefecture, where many small villages suffered catastrophic damages, offered the unique challenge of "synthesizing the desires of the city with those of the citizens," as he told the Japan Times last year. Serving as an advisor at city reconstruction meetings, he was also compelled to listen to local residents. Although the government asks residents to relocate to higher ground in the name of safety, this could be achieved only by cutting into the mountains or by relocating the districts several kilometers inland. Addressing the residents’ desire to return to the places they used to live, he and his company pursued composite disaster mitigation systems incorporating infrastructural and non-infrastructural elements, including green belts, earth mounds, and housing complexes on inclined sites, instead of relying exclusively on high levees.

Another project, Home-for-All, began in Miyagino-ku, Sendai, where some people to this day are forced to live in temporary housing under severe circumstances. Although the government provides prefabricated gathering space in addition to housing, many find it uncomfortable. The Home-for-All project creates warm, relaxed, and comfortable space for people to gather and communicate. This 40-meter (130 foot) square hut was collaboratively designed by four architects--Ito, Hideaki Katsura, Kaoru Suehiro and Masashi Sogabe--as well as advisors and the temporary housing residents. Notes Ito, “We built small communal Home-for-All structures as an attempt to reconsider the basic ‘by oneself, for oneself’ stance of the architect. We made this house without any barrier between professional and amateur, no distinction between builder and resident. Every step of the process was done with locals: we planned together, thinking things through as we created. Builders became residents, residents became builders. Although only a temporary shelter, it embodies a strong symbolic message of aspiration to recovery and rebirth.”

Born in 1941, Toyo Ito graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1965, worked for the Metabolist architect Kiyonori Kikutake until 1969, and in 1971 founded his own office, Urban Robot (URBOT), renamed Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects in 1979. With many public and private projects in Japan and overseas, the Sendai Mediatheque built in 2001 is one of his most representative and influential works. He has received praise for the National Stadium of the Sports Affairs Council in Taiwan, and has received national and international honors for many of his completed projects, including the  Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement from the 8th International Architecture Exhibition “NEXT” at the Venice Biennale in 2002, and the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2006. His work has been published and exhibited extensively worldwide. He also has been a Commissioner of the Kumamoto Artpolis since 2005. Known for his innovation, the New York Times said of Ito: “Through his strange and ethereal buildings, which range from modest houses for the urban recluse to a library whose arched forms have the delicacy of paper cutouts, he has created a body of work almost unmatched in its diverse originality.”

Fashion Girls for Japan (FGFJ) was founded in the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster by Kikka Hanazawa, Tomoko Ogura, Julie Gilhart and Miki Higasa, fashion industry executives in New York.  With the interest in raising funds and bringing awareness to the relief and rebuilding efforts for the affected areas in the northeastern regions of Japan, fundraising events such as designer sales have been organized in NYC with support from designers and the fashion community.   FGFJ has partnered with Japan Society’s Japan Earthquake Relief Fund, raising over $400,000 for the victims in Tohoku, in addition to working with organizations and groups based in Japan who have been effectively supporting the communities and children in the region.

Toyo Ito: Architecture’s Direction Post-March 11 takes placed Monday, October 15, at 6:30 pm.Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and V subway at Lexington Avenue). Tickets are $12/$8 Japan Society members, seniors and students. Tickets may be purchased in person at Japan Society, by calling the box office at 212-715-1258, or at www.japansociety.org. For more information, call 212-832-1155 or visit the website.

This event is co-sponsored by Fashion Girls for Japan. Lecture Programs at Japan Society are generously supported by Toyota Motor North America, Inc. Japan Airlines is the exclusive Japanese Airlines sponsor of Lecture Programs at Japan Society. United Airlines is the exclusive U.S. Airlines sponsor of Lecture Programs at Japan Society. Additional support is provided by Chris A. Wachenheim and the Sandy Heck Lecture Fund.

Media Contacts:

Shannon Jowett, 212-715-1205, sjowett@japansociety.org

Kuniko Shiobara, 212-715-1249, kshiobara@japansociety.org

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