After watching the news about the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan today, I contacted some architects there to make sure they were alright. Fortunately, I heard back from most of them and none reported any casualties. But, of course, the ones who didn't respond may be the ones in the most peril.
Record's Tokyo-based correspondent Naomi R. Pollock said, "Tokyo is remarkably unscathed. I am not sure if we have phone (cell or land) service yet, but we did not lose any other utilities. The quake itself was very scary — it just went on and on and on. We are used to quakes here. But this was a whole other experience. Just as we learned in architecture school, those force waves can come from multiple directions! I really applaud the structural code here." She went on to note that her husband was at his office on the top of a 37-story building when the earthquake hit, but had no trouble getting out. Her daughters, who were at school in the suburbs, took a school bus home, a trip that took seven hours (instead of the usual 45 minutes).
Mark Dytham, a partner in the Tokyo firm Klein Dytham Architecture, wrote, "We are safe but many many people are not. My wife was stuck in a subway tunnel for two hours and is still shaking. It took four hours to reunite my family. Central Tokyo was very lucky, but the coast has been devastated." He went on to say that as the first evening after the quake approached, "The night sky is full of heavy-lift helicopters. The mobile phone system is still out, but public phones now are free. There are lines like it was wartime; it's surreal. But Skype, Facebook and Twitter have been solid throughout." He noted that aftershocks continued to ripple through the land "every 30 minutes or so." Then he added, "But Japan can still make you smile in the midst of this nightmare; that is why I love this country."
Ten hours later, as the morning broke, Dytham wrote again. "The situation is very dire this morning." Referring to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactor, 250 kilometers from Tokyo, he said it still had not shut down and that everyone within a 10-kilometer radius had been evacuated. "Videos of entire coastal towns being wiped out are tough to watch, let alone comprehend.
Hitoshi Abe, who is dean of the school of architecture at UCLA and has a practice in Sendai, close to the epicenter of the earthquake, reported that he was able to speak with people in his office. "My team is okay, but nothing is standing in the office but the building."
Architect Sou Fujimoto was at Tokyo's Narita airport when the earthquake struck and couldn't get out for more than 12 hours because roads and transit systems had closed. Jun Aoki reported damage to his office but no injuries.
As I hear from more architects, I will add updates to this blog.