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UC Students Seek to Restore Playground Lost when 2011 Tsunami Struck Japan

Students in UC’s number-one ranked industrial design program have envisioned a play area for the Japanese city of Ishinomaki. It’s hoped that a UC-designed playscape will serve to replace one lost when the 2011 tsunami hit Japan, while also serving as a memorial for those who lost their lives.

Date: 8/16/2012 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by students

UC ingot   This summer’s studio work has been all about play for 25 pre-juniors in the University of Cincinnati’s nationally number-one ranked industrial design program, housed within the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP).

The students, led by Mike Roller, adjunct instructor of design, and Peter Chamberlain, assistant professor of design, have designed initial concepts for a playscape to replace a play area swept away in the Japanese city of Ishinomaki, a coastal city in northern Japan less than 100 miles from the epicenter of the 9.2 earthquake that rocked the country March 11, 2011. Ishinomaki was one of the areas hardest hit by the subsequent tsunami.

Also contributing to the effort is local resident Emiko Moore of Lebanon, Ohio, who generated the idea for the playground with her daughter, Miya. Emiko Moore has also  served as a liaison with the Ishinomaki City Urban Planning and Development Office. Also assisting with the project are the Japan American Society of Greater Cincinnati and the Consulate-General of Japan in Detroit.
Tree playscape
Rendering of a 30-foot-tall tree playscape wherein the trees trunk serves as a slide, the tree’s roots as benches, and branches serve to support swings. Each leaf represents a person lost in the tsunami.

Said Moore, “After the earthquake and tsunami, my family here became involved in relief efforts because my mother was from Ishinomaki, and we have family there. While involved in raising relief funds, we got the idea of seeking to restore a playground because play is so important for children. From there, I approached DAAP about the project and officials in Ishinomaki who have an interest in rebuilding Matsunami Park (a park in the city) which was completely destroyed in the tsunami.”

City officials in Ishinomaki requested that any area designed by the UC students also incorporate space not only for children but for senior citizens too.

Moore will now send the UC students’ concepts to Japan. What happens next depends on the review of the DAAP designs, which may then be passed along to a local architect.

“I will do everything in my power to see that the playground project is implemented,” promised Moore, adding, “It’s my hope that within a year, a play area design that began at UC will be in place in Ishinomaki as a unique gift letting the people there know that they are not forgotten.”

The most unusual aspect of the design challenge for the UC students is the requirement from the city that the play area – designed to serve both children and senior citizens – also serve as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the tsunami. That requirement means that the students’ concepts must go far beyond any traditional play area.

The five concepts developed by the students to fit within a 50 foot-by-50 foot area of Matsunami Park are
  • A site with a lookout made of recycled concrete and wood, wherein the concrete columns rising vertically as part of the lookout recall ribbons of water. In the area around the lookout are horizontal ribbons of concrete that serve as tables, benches and activity structures, e.g., jungle gyms and balance beams.
  • A site that incorporates rock climbing, rope nets, rope ladders and more attached to forms resembling mountains, a reference to how higher ground and mountains served as a refuge to survivors of the tsunami.
  • An 30-foot tall tree with an interior structure of recycled steel and a base of recycled HDPE composite wood as well as a “leaf” canopy made of mylar in different colors, wherein the trees trunk serves as a slide, the tree’s roots as benches, and branches serve to support swings. Each leaf would serve to represent a person lost in the tsunami.
  • An area of grass, benches, low walls and more (including a community garden)  accessed by means of a tunnel entrance designed to move those entering the space from an experience of low light and dimness into a space of bright sunlight.
  • A playscape that incorporates sound and music into individual and group experiences, including the use of wind chimes, bamboo drums, rainsticks and voice tubes, all placed under an over-arching structure to reflect the created sounds.
    A playsite that incorporates rock climbing, rope nets, rope ladders and more attached to forms resembling mountains, a reference to how higher ground and mountains provided refuge to survivors of the tsunami.

The assignment was especially challenging as the UC industrial design students are accustomed to working on projects on a much smaller scale, e.g., products from bicycles to medical equipment to power tools.

Said Nadia Bryson, 21, of Franklin, Tenn., “This is a new experience for us, working on such a large-scale project. It’s totally different than work we’ve done in the past, but it’s great to think that work we do might become an integral part of someone’s community.”

In seeking to serve a community in Japan, the students have turned to resources within the UC community, reaching out to UC students and faculty from programs like Asian Studies, architecture, the College-Conservatory of Music and others.

They’ve done so, according to student Branden Francis, 21, of Burlington, Ky., because “we hope our ideas will translate well to the culture and people of Japan and that we represent our school and country well, as wanting to contribute and help after what the people in northern Japan have suffered.”