Science, Tech & Environment

PechaKucha humanitarians now help at home

By Clark Boyd

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Tokyo-based architects Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein started PechaKucha back in 2003. They've been amazed by its global growth. And they were pleased when last year's Global PechaKucha day for Haiti raised enough money to build a school.

"Little did we think a year and half later that it would be our turn," Dytham said.

Dytham said he and Klein were in their offices when the earthquake struck Japan last month.

"We were in the middle of Tokyo, and it kind of felt like Toon Town," he said. "You weren't sure where was the level point. The buildings were dancing around…they really were dancing.

Dytham said they immediately started getting emails from the PechaKucha community across the globe asking, "How can we help?" Amid the aftershocks and the unfolding crisis at Fukushima, they decided to seize the moment and organize another Global Pecha Kucha day for the country they've called home for years.

Satuday's events will focus less on reconstruction. Dytham said a Japanese housing company can put up 1,000 new houses a week if it wants. This is about restoring the Japanese spirit.

They're calling it – Inspire Japan.

"Our thought was that so many designers around the world have been inspired by Japan," Dytham said. "And I think it's their chance to inspire Japan now and really turn the tables."

Once again, they're enlisting the help of Architecture for Humanity, a San Francisco non-profit that helps rebuild after disasters. Cameron Sinclair, the group's Director, noted that more than 250 miles of Japanese coastline have been wiped out.

And there are entire towns that the Japanese government says can't be rebuilt. The main thing to think about in rebuilding, Sinclair says, is not the buildings, but the people who lived in them.

"Not only were their lives in those towns and villages, but so was their history, both personal and as a community, and how to transfer that to a new area," Sinclair said. "Can you transfer that? So, one of the things we have to think about is not just relocating people, but relocating the kind of soul of the community that was there."

Architecture for Humanity has already set up a temporary office in Sendai. The group is looking into building, for example, an orphanage for children who lost their parents in the earthquake and tsunami.

Inspire Japan expects more than 100 cities to participate Saturday. The first event will take place in Christchurch, New Zealand.

This year and last year we've had quite a lot of, uh, ground movement with the earthquakes that have shaken Christchurch," said Vanessa Coxhead, organizer of PechaKucha events in Christchurch.

Coxhead said Christchurch is still recovering from its own earthquakes, so it won't be easy to pull off Saturday's presentations. But, she said, it will be worth it, for Christchurch and Japan.

"There's definitely a lot of crossover, and there's a lot that we can learn from each other's experiences as well," Coxhead said.

All of the money raised in Christchurch, by the way, will go to earthquake relief in New Zealand.

Architect Peter Exley is organizing the PechaKucha presentations in Chicago.

"I think it's important for us to support Japan and to look at how these catastrophes impact us and how we can be better prepared to look after each other and support each other," Exley said.

Electricity permitting, there will even be an Inspire Japan event in Sendai, one of the cities hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami.