Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Melts Down

Fukushima, Japan
March 11, 2011
Zhendong Long and Xiaodan Ma

Nuclear Power Plant Disaster


What Will Our World Be?

People are trying to find out what the role of architecture for decades. Some people think architecture is more about formal design, as Steven Holl states the four points about architecture—abstract, use, space, and ideas. As a result, more brand new forms of architecture were derived from the past such as a nuclear power plant. However, on the way of finding different strategies to design architecture, natural powers have already given a lot of lessons to people. Fukushima 3/11 disaster is one of thought provoking examples. On March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami struck north-east Japan with devastating loss of life. Whole towns were swept away and hundreds-of-thousands of buildings were destroyed. The greater damage was caused when the tsunami surged over the seawall of Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station, resulting in a multiple core meltdown that released vast quantities of radioactivity into the atmosphere and ocean. These natural disasters brought people to rethink what architecture needs now. The recovery and reconstruction continues and the survivors are faced with the huge task of rebuilding their lives and their communities. The disaster trigger a discussion on how to examine the situation and to consider the meaning of architecture and also, as a site that serves to explore the potential of architecture, present a reflection related to the recent natural disasters. The role of architecture in this way should be a safety shelter that satisfies human needs as this is the originality of architecture.

To ensure an architecture is more stable and suitable to the environment rather than just focuses on formal and functional design is what architects could do to maximize the safety and reduce the mortality from Fukushima disaster. The (building) codes, which are essential to ensure the highest level of building safety for people, bring uniformity to the architecture construction projects and make buildings more environmentally friendly. The codes, as the precautions principles, should be updated as well.

The U.S. Department of Energy supplies maps depicting the current status of state building codes
The U.S. Department of Energy supplies maps depicting the current status of state building codes(Commercial)
The U.S. Department of Energy supplies maps depicting the current status of state building codes(residential)

After the plant melts down, American Nuclear Society (ANS) researched the accident and then gave the accident analysis report to the public. As the report shows, the major problems that may cause this event are first—inappropriate emergency response, second—the design-basis standard became “out of date” because of the change of the local environment as time passed by, last—the inappropriate design of sitting plan and the containment reactor design.

Fukushima Nuclear Plant Site and Problem Analysis

Both failure in people’s operations and designs of the plant and detail equipment make this natural disaster more harmful and influential to the public. The building codes endow architecture with retrospective and prospective responsibility.

The prospective aspect also attracted awareness of safety design before the melding down of Fukushima reactors. Well preset of building codes and precautions principles are what a qualified architecture relies on because architecture houses people, shelters people, and more importantly, protects people.


The most original and elegant purpose of architecture is to provide a shelter to people; that is the role of architecture. The building codes as one of safety aspect is correspondent with the second fundamental levels of demanding in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In the advanced technology and “strong” building (Kuma, 2012) in terms of its ability of energy manufacture and production, the 3/11 natural disaster reveals the venerability of this kind of “strong power” architecture.  In response to this challenge, architecture must “start again from scratch” (Kuma, 2012). In the lecture “After March 11th” by Kuma Kengo at Harvard University, the idea of “all architecture can do is to respect nature” gives people a hint about the originality of architecture.

The Similar Idea of “Architecture Respect to Natural”, 2011 Zombie Safe House Competition from Archdaily

As architecture develops, more and newer attentions are given to different aspects of architecture. Back to the history of architecture, the initial goal of architecture is to house people. By the means of “housing”, architecture was protecting people from extreme weather, from war, from anything dangerous outside. But now, either fancy forms or sophisticated programing make architecture powerful in term of formal and functional design. At the same time, its basic role of sheltering people and cultivating culture are relatively neglected. As Erin Schneider mentions in “Apocalyptic Architecture”, after the cold war, the full landscape of the site and people used to live there were totally disappeared (Schneider, 23). All the culture that architecture brings and people live with are gone. Either natural power or human’s reaction could be harmful to architecture. The architecture should be working on creating the culture, caring culture, and more important protecting culture. Therefore, to build a safe shelter is role of architecture.



As the role of architecture has been defined, how a natural disaster such as the tsunami can destroyed north-eastern Japan help to define the essence of architecture? Th­­­­e 3/11 Fukushima disaster has inspired many ideas in architecture, for example, Home-for-All project by Toyo Ito. He describes that Home-For-All project is not just a home in the traditional meaning. Instead, it functions as a shelter and a meeting point for the residents and the community (Ito, 05). Ito explains that Home-For-All focus on creating a sense of safety and belonging. Compared to the Fukushima power plant, which is a design of production, instead of a safe “breathing space” to serve people’s basic needs. Rethinking the function of architecture and the responsibility of architects, designers question the ideal of architecture. As Toyo Ito says in his book Toyo Ito – Forces of Nature:” Since the modern period, architecture has been rated highest for its originality. As a result, the most primal themes – why a building is made and for whom – have been forgotten. A disaster zone where everything is lost offers the perfect opportunity for us to take a fresh look, from the ground up, at what architecture really is” (Ito, 05). While architecture is originally considered as home, a resemblance to the definition of family that associated by physical function and spiritual relationship. A nuclear power plant, not just functions as a factory, but is also carrying various needs of human in as a community, as shown in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Architecture must go well beyond providing places for physiology and production. The requirements and need for safety and belongingness are also the responsibilities of our modern architecture.

The changing role of architectures and architects in disaster response leads to higher demanding of architecture, from formal design, to protective function and safety needs, to physical and psychological recovery and reconstruction. Regulatory and recovery changes and updates are necessary for architects to face and mitigate the effect of future disasters. It is important that architects are aware of the opportunities for changing and satisfying people’s needs. There, the basic role of architecture should be back to where it came—architecture is designed to serve and protect people.






Taro Igarashi. Initiatives by Architects Since 3.11. The Japan Architect, 84, 4-5.

Senhiko Nakata Laboratory, Miyagi University. Timeline of Architects’ Actions Since the Great East Japan Earthquake. The Japan Architect, 84, 8-16

Steven Holl. “What is Architecture”. 4 September, 2013, Retrieved from http://www.brooklynrail.org/2013/09/criticspage/what-is-architecture-art

American Nuclear Society. “Fukushima Daiichi: ANS Committee Report”. June 2012, Retrieved from http://fukushima.ans.org/report/Fukushima_report.pdf

Quirk, Vanessa. “Architecture for the Apocalypse (Now)” 21 Dec 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 16 Sep 2013.http://www.archdaily.com/310542

Kuma, Kengo. “After March 11th.” Lecture, from Harvard Graduate School of Design, Boston, MA, October 11, 2012.

Ito, Toyo. Interview. Domus. September 2012

Erin Schneider. “Apocalyptic Architecture: Cold War Bunkers, Reuse and the Everyday Landscape”, a division III hampshire college2010, Retrieved from  http://www.academia.edu/440251/Apocalyptic_Architecture_Cold_War_Bunkers_Reuse_and_the_Everyday_Landscape

Encyclopedia Entries

Wikipedia contributors, “Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Retrieved from  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_Nuclear_Power_Plant

Wikipedia contributors, “Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster


Scholarly Articles

Huber, W. (2012). After fukushima: The precautionary principle revisited. Verbum Et Ecclesia, 33(2), 1-6. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1313181416?accountid=14214

Lun, I., & Ohba, M. (2012). An overview of the cause of energy shortage and building energy strategy after fukushima disaster in tohoku district of japan. Advances in Building Energy Research (ABER), 6(2), 272-309. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1283748913?accountid=14214


“Fukushima leaks: Japan pledges $470m for ‘ice wall’,” accessed September 3, 2013, Retrieved from  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-23940214

Japan plans to build a frozen all to stop leaks of radioactive water. This may be the implication of the progress of Fukushima reconstruction for 2020 Tokyo Olympics


Video and Audio

Fukushima: NHK Documentary; What Happened at Fukushima


Fukushima: NHK Documentary; The People of District No. 6


Video: Radiation of the Pacific Ocean in the Next 10 Years



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