Minamisanriku Town is located in the northern part of the coastal area of Miyagi Prefecture. The town was virtually wiped out by the devastating damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The former wooden town hall that had served as the nerve center for the town's administration was engulfed by the tsunami. Even the Disaster Prevention Center that had prepared for tsunamis was submerged up to the roof, leaving only its steel frame now.
Mayor Jin Sato, was himself was swallowed by the tsunami but managed to survive, has been spearheading the post-quake reconstruction efforts with the aim of developing a town that “protects people's lives no matter what.”
In parallel with civil engineering works for tsunami countermeasures, a public housing complex, a wholesale market that serves as the mainstay of the fishing industry, and a shopping arcade were built, followed by the completion of the Minamisanriku Town Hall building after six years since the earthquake disaster.
The town hall was built on a newly developed, elevated area with no fear of damage from the tsunamis. A public hospital and a public housing complex, completed a year before the town hall, are located near the town hall, and the town hall has become a new administrative hub based on lessons learned from the tsunami.
When building the town hall on this site, the mayor requested that it should be a safe structure and that it is a place where people can feel free to visit . Though the town hall is the administrative center of the town, for ordinary townspeople, it is more of a place where various administrative services are offered. The Mayor was concerned that counters over which officials interact with townspeople would act as a barrier between them. In order to dispel such concern, the concept of “Machidoma” was developed.
Unlike the entrances of Western houses, Doma, an area with hard compacted earth at the entrance between outside and inside the house with a rustic atmosphere, extends the entrance of a traditional Japanese house from the indoors to the outdoors. By adopting the notion of a doma in traditional Japanese houses as a doma for an open and easily accessible place in the town hall, it would lead to regaining a place for the townspeople that was always available for them before the disaster.
After the concept of Machi-doma was developed, we gathered local high school students and young members of the Young Entrepreneurs Group of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and held a workshop to discuss specific ideas for the concept. Various ideas were generated from a user's perspective, including the adjoining café, tatami benches to be used by the elderly at the bus stops, movable panels for exhibitiions and presentations, and electric screens that can be used for public viewing of the games of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, a local baseball team.
In the workshop, the participants generated many ideas not only for the building but also for the attractive features and the future of the town. From developing facilities to developing the city itself— even in the midst of the difficulties of the disaster, it was a moment when a strong passion for reconstruction was felt.
Surrounded by watersheds, Minamisanriku Town is rich in natural resources, such as marine resources, mountain resources, and forest resources. Building a town that is able to make use of these resources is the future vision set by the town for itself after the earthquake. As part of its initiatives, the Minamisanriku Town Forest Cooperatives made Minamisanriku cedars a brand. It has acquired the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, an international forest protection certification for forest certification and processing.
Minamisanriku cedars are used in various parts of the newly built town hall building and serves to convey how attractive the town is. In addition, we developed a design that is both new and familiar at the same time by using movable panels and signs that use the traditional ornaments of Tohoku including Minamisanriku Town called kiriko as a motif.
The town hall opened to the cheers of the people in September 2017. Many people who visited the town hall after its opening said, “This town hall building is a bright and open space.” How the town hall will be used as a free space that reflects the wishes of many people is something to look forward to for the future of this place and Minamisanriku Town.