Elementary: Japanese Students Envision a Rebuilt Village

(Students Rebuild)

On February 23, Students Rebuild and Architecture for Humanity led a student design charrette at the recently completed “We Are One” Market and Youth Center in Kitakami. Students from grades 1-5 came spent the Saturday morning building their visions from all sorts of craft and recycled market supplies, from paints, pipe cleaners and origami paper, to bulk boxes and wood blocks left over from the center’s construction.

A special guest designer from America (me) was in attendance to judge the work.

A snowy day in Kitakami
Fifteen projects have been built for the village, all scaled to Lego figures, and included houses & castles; bridges & gateways; parks & gardens; a school, a tall desk and a live/work community center. Grades 1-3 worked in the youth space, while grades 4 & 5 (all girls) had the multipurpose room. For presentation, projects were lined in two rows in the multipurpose space, with the bridge projects linking the rows: two banks of a mini Kitakami river. Finally the participants voted on the People’s Choice – which we’ve saved here for last.

The review was all in Japanese – but Aki translated the kids’ comments and thoughts after the fact.

We’ve been following the charrette’s set up over the past couple blogs – check out the construction process and final designs below!


Room at work
School build
Castle build
Paint it blue
Aki tutors on gluing
Archway build
And now for the results!

Houses & Castles

Blue houseA few of the students built “dream houses,” insistent on colors, that there be swing sets, and at times, a swimming pool. This blue house was a project of two students who wanted to live together.

Yellow houseDream house with a loft and an expressive roof

The CastleThis designer wanted to live in a castle. Good thing he’s using local materials – the heads of reeds harvested from the river for any number of uses, including temporary shrine gateways. The girls here seem amused by the roof – “it says it all.” Aki also notes that he did not specify wanting to conquer Kitakami.

Bridges & Gateways

Fishing bridgeThis designer wanted a bridge to fish from. A tranquil pedestrian bridge would be a nice accompaniment the river crossing dedicated to car traffic.

Rainbow bridgeThe designer of this bridge felt the current bridge spanning the Kitakami river was uninspiring. She wanted a colorful, happy one to take its place.

Rainbow passageThis designer wanted a colorful passageway into the city.

Parks & Gardens

Garden ParkThis park includes a garden, storage sheds and a snow-covered field.

Island ParkA water park, with a bridge spanning two islands

Elevated GardenAn “elevated garden.” You can see the garden on the yellow rooftop actually includes carrots and radishes. A bunny lives beneath it. We conjecture that the bunny is attempting sustainable living by managing its own food source.

“Wait – in her future she wants to become a bunny?” I wonder during our Skype debrief.
“Maybe their school has a bunny,” Hiromi muses. “I mean we had chickens.”
“We had a peacock,” Aki adds.
“We did too!”
“Are you guys serious?”
“Yeah there was a peacock in a giant cage, and we’d have to clean up after it.”
“Students in Japan typically clean up their school,” Aki notes.
“So there aren’t any janitors?”
“No there are janitors,” Hiromi says, “but they do more of the mechanical stuff.”
Aki: “And other things out of reach.”

Flower gardenFlower garden. The writing on the sign reads “kadan,” meaning flower pots.

Schools, Tall Desks, & Community Centers

SchoolhouseYou might not be able to tell, but this elaborate school house has wheels! The designer wanted a mobile school so the scenery could change

Blue DeskThis tower is actually a desk that one of the designers made for me! Perhaps my 6’4″ness inspired some ergonomic design? “Probably none of these kids have seen a Gaijin before,” Aki tells me. The desk comes with tennisball feet.

Elders' VillageThe 4th and 5th graders in the multipurpose space teamed up to build this village, complete with a pool, a dog house, roof garden, a computer station and upstairs residential spaces with handmade furniture. It takes a village to build a village.

And The People’s Choice:

The People's Choice: Sushi ParkWhen asked which project everyone like most, a clear majority of fingers were directed at this park: an impressive execution by a 1st (or 2nd) grader – including a swing set, varietal shrubberies, well-colored play structure, and hand-made giant sushis. It wasn’t stated why everyone preferred this project, but the sushis look delicious.


We were thrilled by the imagination and diversity of projects that the student designers came up with – this really became a complete village before our eyes. Common themes include heavy use of color (and several comments that the real Kitakami was a little too drab), more recreation and pedestrian-oriented spaces – and generally ways to make their environment more exciting and engaging. Several ideas engaged the water next to the town. (Aki notes that some students from the fishing villages would not have been able to attend the charrette as it was kelp harvesting season, and there may have been even more water oriented projects.)

Nobu, the Japan team intern, noted how interesting it was the older students worked together, and it reflected the way Japanese students develop, and start working cooperatively perhaps a bit sooner than those in North America. Their result was a village in itself, and we can imagine it playing very well with the other work created.

We took careful notes of the work and consider these recommendations for future child- and student-oriented built projects. High fives all around! (But not too high.)


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