Village of Maeami-hama celebrates new community house

IMG_7797(Architecture for Humanity)

On February 24, 2013, the residents of the fishing village of Maeami-hama, on a secluded inlet on the Pacific coast of Tohoku, gathered to celebrate the opening of its new community house.

The fishermen and their families invited Tokyo-based designers KMDW architects and project coordinators Architecture for Humanity Japan (in Ishinomaki as MakiBiz) to join in a feast caught that very morning: abalone, octopus, seaweed, inari (wrapped rice pastries), and refreshments.

Merriment stretched late into the afternoon, adorned with stories and jokes, tours and inspections of the structure, and a guest appearance from Ultraman. The Maeami community was very enthusiastic about this new structure – which replaces a concrete community house condemned and demolished after the 2011 tsunami.

The unique construction system allowed the fishermen to build the project themselves, and subverted post-disaster material and labor scarcity in the region. Developed by KMDW with Keio University, the design employs a kit of plywood parts that combine to form code-compliant columns and beams, flooring and partitions. A bonus, the house exhibits remarkable construction details and joinery that tell how it all came together in a manner reminiscent of traditional Japanese carpentry. By any standards, let alone the economic and geographic constraints, and the fresh pains of the disaster, the Maeami-hama Community House is an architectural marvel.

See below for pictures of the opening day festivities.


The community and storage house welcomes early arrivals to the opening ceremony. Both sets of doors slide open for a view of the inlet, the ships, and the steep and intimate shoreline.

Storage-side detail

Plentiful natural light will make it easy to find what you need, even as the shed fills with fishing equipment

The party’s upstairs – through the threshold between the storage and community meeting spaces. Will there be enough slippers??

KMDW’s Kobayashi-sensei explains the structural system – how plywood sheeting can hold a building up, and how the design’s numbering system instructed the fishermen to assemble it.

Exterior detail

KMDW, Architecture for Humanity, and the Maeami fishermen share a table
KMDW, Architecture for Humanity, and the Maeami fishermen gather for the meal at the community table. The space heater in the foreground doubles as a kettle hotplate.

Abalone + inarizushi + octopus + seaweed salad = an incredible moments-old feast.

Ultraman Returning, very much a stakeholder, seems to approve.

Suzuki-san reflects on 3.11. He’s kept these photos of the tsunami in his car since the disaster, which caught him on the shore, off guard. The one here shows the inlet with water rushing out to feed the tsunami. “I kept turning to take pictures while running up the hill.” To my shock, he gave me this print.

laughs and a setting sun
Laughter mingles with warm structures and waning sunlight.

Within hours of opening, the house gets its first architectural tourists
Within hours of opening, the house receives its first architectural tourists.

The house glows like a lantern in the evening. This fishing village is once again open for business.

group shot
Tokyo-based KMDW staff (on the left) and the fishermen of Maeami-hama village in Tohoku


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