Beyond Borders : Architecture for renovating Fukushima

Fifth year • 2014 • University of Tokyo (TODAI)

Supervising professors : Kengo KUMA &  Hiroki AZUMA

Basis of my Final Year Assignment Beyond Borders #2

Complete file : Beyond Borders - EnglishBeyond Borders #1 

  Intensive Research                                                                    

S9 analyse en

By studying Fukushima’s recent history, I decided to focus on the following problems that occurs today : 

• The world became afraid of coming to Japan. Even if it’s slowly fading away, the non-understanding of the situation makes people afraid of the idea more than actually questioning the reality.

• Japan’s economy is suffering from these events, not only from the loss of lands and people, but also from the loss of tourists.

• Japanese became afraid of Fukushima, same as they have been afraid of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The word “Fukushima” still resonates in the ears of anyone who hears it. 

• The fear is not only related to the land, but also to the people that lives in the area (whether they have been exposed to radiations or not), and discrimination is threatening the inhabitants. 

• The residents that have lost their lands and homes are still traumatized, and the process of resilience needs to be accelerated. 

Therefore, the main question that we should ask in order to improve these facts is : how can we change the perception of Fukushima ? 

As I have previously showed in this first part of the study, tourism can be a great way to help making peace with Fukushima’s history. By understanding the situation, we can become less afraid of the reality. That’s why having a place such as the Fukuichi Kanko Project would be a great way to spead information. It’s what has been done in Hiroshima, and what is missing in Chernobyl. But as this project would be able to take on in a few decades, I think that it would be important to start doing something now : tourism has already started, and isn’t in control yet. 

Also, Tokyo has recently been selected for the 2020 Olympic Games, and this event will bring thousands of people to Japan. Therefore, it seems important to take into consideration the fact that people might want to take a trip to Fukushima to witness the disasters. 

Learning from the past, I want to propose a project in order to help changing the perception of Fukushima through architecture, and guide tourists into the learning of this tragic part of Japan’s history, as much as leading them into the critic of the situation.

S9 carte japon evolution en

Maps of Japan showing the evolution on the perception of the country’s borders, from before to after the events 

In the collective consciousness, it seems to me that there has been a change in the perception of Japan’s boundaries since the events of 3/11. As if Fukushima Prefecture was no longer a part of the country, being ignored because of the fear and the trauma that it has caused. Even though the medias keeps speaking about the situation, it seems that they are talking about a foreign country, a place that doesn’t belong to Japan anymore.  

S9 pref fukushima evolution en

Maps of Fukushima Prefecture showing the evolution on the perception of the borders, from before to after the events 

During my study, I realized that this change of perception was concerning two scales : first, the scale of Japan with Fukushima Prefecture ; and second, within the scale of Fukushima Prefecture, as the Hamadori region is the one being really concerned with the zonings and the radiations. 

Political or scientific boundaries ?

S9 hamadori pref

By looking closer at the defined zones, and their evolution through time, it appeared clearly that the zones were actually following the region’s political boundaries. For instance, today’s radiation map is gathered in only one region : the Hamadori region. Are the borders strong enough to stop radiations ? This situation reminded me of my home country, France, when we were told in 1986 that the Chernobyl radiated cloud stopped at the French border, and that we had nothing to be worried about. Population needs to feel reassured, but is she really safe if being brought to illusion ?

How to understand the exact significations of these zones ? Through my researches, I found the sources of METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and WNN (World Nuclear News), trying to explain the meaning of the zones. The situation being very complex, and the explainations being very vague, it still is difficult to understand the real meaning of these boundaries : where is it really radiated and dangerous ? What does it really means for the residents ? What does it mean for the future ? 

But mostly, how was it decided ? Are radiations that simple so we can draw a line, name zones, and give restrictions related to it ? 


         Yellow : Deliberate evacuation area : Area with concern that a cumulative dose might reach 20mSv within 1 year period after the accident. Residents were requested to evacuate in a planned manner (METI) Planned evacuation area (WNN)

                Green : Areas to which evacuation orders are ready to be lifted (METI) • An area to which people may return but not stay overnight. No protective equipment required (WNN)

  Orange : Areas in which the residents are not permitted to live (METI) • A “restricted” area ; dose rate of over 20 millisieverts per year. Entry for specific purposes, no protective equipment required (WNN)

          Pink : Areas where it is expected that the residents have difficulties in returning for a long time (METI) • A “difficult” area ; dose rate of 20-50 millisievert per year. Entry to the public interest only (WNN)

      Red : Areas where it is expected that the residents have difficulties in returning for a long time (METI) • Fully evacuated area (WNN)

S9 evolution zones en

Fukushima's boundaries

In November 2013, I went with the Studio to visit Fukushima’s devastated areas, and to some of the radiated areas. We experienced the power of the borders, even if being so thin and appearing easily penetrable. But the fear of this unperceivable threat prevented us from jumping over the small fences. We were able to visit the Green Zone only, being stopped on the road by the police at the main gates leading to the Orange and Red Zones. I was able to witness the complex situation of a city being divided in two, with houses facing each other : some can come back to their homes, others will have to wait for a few decade. 

Militarized border of Futaba district

Barrier between Red and Green Zone • Tomioka village

A face to face between residents • Tomioka

Protected in the Green Zone • Tomioka village

Wearing a mask in the Red Zone • Tomioka village

Mauvais rêves ?

The series “Mauvais rêves ?” (Bad Dreams?) was created by two French photographers from the Trois8 collective, Carlos Ayesta and Guillaume Bression, who decided to return to the contaminated territories of the Fukushima Prefecture in Japan. Some strange and surreal photographs, taken with the help of people who live there, who pose again the question of tangibility of borders between contaminated area and healthy area, between subjective fear and real threat against the nuclear and other dangers… • Source : Ufunk 

Faced with an imperceptible threat, Japan was forced to create dead zones where you still can see some of the most brutal and palpable traces of the nuclear accident. According to the artists, the border seems blurred and subjective since everyone is required to set its own limits, limits that ultimately divide people themselves. This is what Ayesta and Bression want to explore in these wonderful photographs where the artists were able to stage surreal dramatizations in a rather apocalyptic landscape by introducing transparent structures like bubbles and films. According to the artists, these photographs represent the idea of “a contamination that doesn’t have a clear border, a grey threat becomes in this way the fertile soil for our imagination and fears that can become more harmful than the radiation itself.” • Source :

  Architectural project                                                                 

                               Part ONE : On the large scale                                                                         

Based on the intensive research previously exposed, I chose to use tourism as a method to work on a way to change the perception of Fukushima. Therefore, creating an architecture such as a museum, a memorial, or in this case, observatories, seemed to me the right way of attracting people to a place that became feared by Japan and the world. 

Observatories on the Red Zone

Creating porosity in a border

I decided to focus mainly on the Red Zone, because this one will probably be unchanging for a few decades, and therefore it has a stronger impact into people’s life. 

The main idea of this project is to create observatories along the Red Zone, that would be working as landmarks in a divided territory, putting forward the power of boundaries. But also, rising a tower over the border would allow residents to reach their lost land within a sight, and allow the tourists to come and witness the state of the Zones. Being brought to these areas could prevent people from being afraid of Fukushima’s residents, and help them understand the situation. 

Because the danger of radiations is today located on the ground, a tower could make people feel safe and protected, while looking at the landscape that nobody wants to come close to anymore. 

S9 hamadori zones en

Where are the limits ?

Location of the observatories along the Red Zone

Invisible threat, how can we know where radiations are ? In some locations, men are guarding gates ; in some others, borders are materialised by low barriers ; but along many roads, nothing explicits where are the limits between the Zones. Located in 9 different areas, the observatories would help into defining this - temporary ? - separation between the idea of danger and safety. 

S9 limites definies


                                     Part TWO : An observatory in Futaba’s border                                           



For the Studio, I decided to choose one of the nine places that I had previously selected. I developed an architectural project following the ideas and the critics that I have put forward in my research. The project is about living the experience of a boundary, its thickness, its physical and intellectual power, its consequences, and its reasons of being.



I decided to choose the location of Futaba for many reasons. First, because it is located on the border between Green and Red Zones, allowing anyone to come to the Green Zone during the day. Then, because it is the closest point within sight of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the new “attraction” of Fukushima. Also because the town of Futaba is one of the most famous abandoned villages in the region, and a lot of residents are being concerned about the consequences of the explosion - and therefore the boundaries. And last, because of my personal experience of being stopped by the police at this gate.

S9 superposition frontie res en
S9 projet futaba en

A journey to the border

On this project, I have wanted to create a sensory experience of the events, starting from the earthquake and ending at the current situation of the boundaries. Tourists and residents who would visit the observatory would be lead through a discovery path of a physical and intellectual encounter, questioning the state of today’s Fukushima’s condition. By creating an atmosphere of insecurity and of protection, I have wanted to express, with architecture, the difficult questions that everybody is asking today. 

S9 photos maquette
S9 plan masse 1
S9 projet

The Bunker

On the first part of the journey, visitors will climb a set of a 100 stairs, reaching the top of the 16 meter hill. It’s on this part of the project that the informations about the succession of event will be given. Created as a scar in the landscape, I wanted to express the feeling of containment between two walls, giving no other options than to go up and forward - and working as a metaphor for time. Also, I wanted to express the need to feel reassured and protected, as anyone would like to feel during such catastrophic events. Therefore, I was inspired by the atmosphere of bunkers : thick walls, cavities and reinforced concrete. To join the idea of a scar and a bunker, I decided to create one that would be cut in half, on the same idea of Bunker 599 by RAAAF and Atelier de LyonThe sequence of this ascension is divided in three stages, and four flight of stairs. At each floor, visitors will receive explanations and informations about each event, working as a physical timeline. As they go up, the number of steps in each flight of stairs are increasing, making the ascension more and more difficult. Like each event was being added to the previous one, I did the same with the number of following steps : 10 to reach the earthquake, 20 (10+10) to reach the tsunami, 30 (20+10) to reach the nuclear disaster, and 40 (30+10) to reach the boundaries.  

S9 coupe escaliers 1

At every stage the visitors will discover, on the west side, the history and informations about each event, in order to “feed the mind”. But they also can experience the feeling of each disaster by going into the east part of the Bunker, filled with emptiness, in order to “feed the emotions” and leave a stronger memory of this visit. 

On the stage of the earthquake, the visitor is brought into an extremely narrow room where he can hardly move. The only light that illuminates the room is coming from the sky, making the eyes look up, for hope and expectation. 

On the stage of the tsunami, the visitor is brought into the core of the bunker, where no natural light illuminates the place. The emotion of oppression can be felt, as when being drown into the depth of the powerful water flow. 

On the stage of the nuclear disaster, the visitor is being led into making a choice between going right or going left, as the residents have experienced, wondering if they should stay or if they should leave. But the result cannot be perceived : as no one knows the real consequences of the nuclear disaster, no one knows if their choice is the right one or not. But in this specific case, is there a right one ? Both of the situations had deadly consequences. 

S9 coupe bunker 1
S9 projet coupe en
S9 tour 1

After walking on the Green Zone for about 200 meters along the border, the visitors finally reach the vertical bridge that will lead them to the Red Zone. This tower of 24 meters high works the same way as Leonardo Da Vinci’s double revolution stairs. Going up from one side, these stairs communicates only at the top, allowing people to go down on the other side, without seeing anyone from each different side. 

With the idea of reproducing a Moebius ribbon, the tower expresses what seems to be a never ending path of a situation like the one in Fukushima, but also the fact that the two sides belong to the same object, or in this case, the same land and country. 

Same as the Bunker, the tower has one hundred steps, and is made of four flights of stairs, and three intermediate landings. Each one of these landing allows the visitors to take a break and look at the view, gradually cleared up by getting over the trees and by the wire getting more sparse as it reaches the top. Indeed, same as a climbing plant, the wire is highly dense at the bottom, giving the feeling (illusion?) of being protected from the high level of radiations contained into the ground and the trees, and gets gradually more sparse as we climb over the trees and have access to the view. 

S9 maquettetour 1

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