Lessons from Minamisanriku: Koala Library

What are the most important civic buildings?

The first civic building that was rebuilt in Minamisanriku after the tsunami was the Koala Library.  The impetus to rebuild came when, following the tsunami, local children were seen reading under streetlghts outside the temporary relief shelters. It became clear that for these children, reading offered both an escape from their situation, and a means of bringing some sense of the normal back to their lives.

The local government set up a temporary library and images of this were broadcast around the world which attracted attention and offers of support. One such offer came from the Bank of Australia and New Zealand, to support a new building for lifelong studies. This would become the new Koala Library, which was built and opened in October 2011, just seven months after the tsunami.

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The Library, which has both traditional library facilities and community meeting and activity spaces, was conceived not only as a place of learning and culture, but also as a place where local people could take refuge from the concerns of daily life.

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The Koala Library was built at a time in which thousands of local households were still living in temporary accommodation. Due to the speed with which the temporary housing was built, and the sheer volume of temporary housing required, many of these families were living in cramped spaces and dealing with issues such as leaking. Conditions were extemely challenging in the home environment, and the Koala Library offered a warm and calm space, a space where while there, it felt that life continued as normal.

1322-20131105_152600_rsAn outdoor oven in the grounds of Koala Library which was built with local children

 

 

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, ‘Bridging the Gap between Academic Theory and Community Relevance: Fresh Insights from American Pragmatism’ (AH/K006185/1) was a collaborative research project involving Keele University, Brunel University, the Open University, University of Edinburgh and Seinan Gakuin University (Japan), and community partners New Vic Borderlines and The Glass-House Community Led Design.

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