Thursday, 1 December 2011

Loss and scale

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami undesigned a lot of Japan; the natural destruction went well beyond anything man-made. Perhaps it even left behind for, those whose work is design or architecture, a question of what is design and its meaning after such an event – and this is what an exhibition at the architecture gallery Gallery MA tries to assess. It's not as idle a question as it might at first seem – after the loss of life, there was mass destruction to homes and townscapes, and questions of how to plan and rebuild.

The exhibition ("311: Lost Homes") doesn't tackle the question of design's place directly – or pretentiously. Or even ultimately try to answer it. Despite posing the question, the show is more to do with human loss and an attempt to place a response via the work architects. It looks back – using architectural models usually used for showing future plans. In the gallery, there are table-top models of selected damaged areas – scaled representations of approximately 500m-square sections of now-damaged towns and villages – as they were before the tsunami (or in one case, before they were evacuated because of the nuclear crisis). The models are accompanied by a very brief summary of each area's history, plus a before and after the tsunami aerial shot of the same area the model represents. The effect is poignant, even loving, in its recreation, yet without directly addressing questions of what to do next in terms of building, towns and communities, manages to just hint at them. There are no close-up images of destruction, no direct human details, yet the exhibition surprisingly isn't distant, or at least is still affecting in its "distance". It is one interesting response from architects among many responses to the disaster from people of all walks of life.

On the walls alongside the models are a few graphical representations of statistics to do with the destruction – the magnitude of the quake, amount of radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant etc – titled "311 Scale", which can also be seen online here.

Top: a model in the exhibition showing the Arahama area near Sendai, where the tsunami reached 4 kilometres inland. I only made one trip to the damaged area, and the photo below was taken at a position just above the centre of the photo of the model above. I took it including the buildings, although you can tell by the background of the photo, many buildings were just washed away.

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