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Global PechaKucha Day

90 cities around the world come together to help rebuild Japan. But how can creativity assist in disaster recovery?

This weekend, a powerful wave of creativity and optimism traveled around the globe, raising awareness and funds to help rebuild disaster-struck communities in Japan.

Global PechaKucha Day began in Tokyo and Christchurch in the early evening (EST) of Saturday April 16 and subsequently hit over 90 cities around the world, before wrapping up in Quito, Equador. The unique event brought people together to share and listen to ideas for contributing to the recovery effort in Japan. Global PechaKucha Day was headed by Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein of Klein-Dytham Architecture, who are also the founders of the popular PechaKucha 20X20 initiative, which has for nearly a decade brought together members of the creative community in Japan. In fact, in recent years PechaKucha 20X20 has become something of a global phenomenon, with over 200 branches emerging in cities from San Francisco to Cape Town.

Saturday’s PechaKucha Day was based on four key themes: INSPIRE, JAPAN, THE ISSUES and RECOVERY and presenters at each local event were asked to speak on things that are inspiring about Japan, or ‘great ideas or solutions that help deal with the issues at hand whether earthquake, tsunami or nuclear—and the road to recovery.’ In Tokyo, the presenters list included architects, designers, innovators and more, who came together to share their unique initiatives with audiences. Some notable presentations were made by Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, co-founder of renowned architecture firm Atelier Bow Wow, representatives from runaway charity project Quakebook, and hip new music initiative, which helps musicians around the world help victims of disaster.

All donations made at this Global PechaKucha Day event (which includes ticket sales) will be contributed to Architecture for Humanity and ArchiAid's reconstruction work in Japan. Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity, recently had this to say about the Japan situation:

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‘In Sendai and in the surrounding community hundreds of buildings have disappeared and thousands damaged. Architecture for Humanity and our teams in Japan have been working on our long-term plan for rebuilding in these affected communities. It is our role to partner with local networks and support their initiatives as well as collaborate on new ones.’

I attended Global PechaKucha Day in Tokyo, and had the opportunity to speak to founders Mark and Astrid on the event, the role of creativity in post-disaster scenarios and more:

How did you come up with the idea for Global PechaKucha Day?

Mark: After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I wrote to Cameron Sinclair from Architecture for Humanity saying, ‘Is there anything we can do,’ and at the same time everyone was mailing us asking, ‘Is there something we can all do together to help’…and that’s how we ended up pulling the whole network together.

Astrid: Once you have a network of 400 cities around the world and lots of creative people, you think ‘Wouldn’t it be great if all of this creative energy could actually be harnessed to even a bigger goal?’ And that’s where we thought about a Global PechaKucha Day where everybody comes together not only for fundraising but inspiring others with great ideas.


There’s been talk of an online ‘emergency database’ that’s coming out of the Global PechaKucha Day events. What is it?

Astrid: Well we’re hoping to build an online database of presentations concerning earthquakes and tsunamis—a place for people to go in situations like this. There’s been Haiti, Conception, Christchurch but also the Aceh tsunami and nobody knows what really happens in a disaster, how you can help and what you can do. Everybody knows about the Doctors without Borders but there’s also Telecom Without Borders there’s Internet without Borders and it would be really great if we could build a database that becomes a place to go to—where you can build upon and maybe evolve from there, with new ideas to help and support.

Mark: We’re already putting presentations online, so for Haiti we’ve got about 100 presentations that were made during (last year’s) Global PechaKucha Day event, which are really valid for the issues at hand. One of them for instance is called the Peepoo and it’s a bag that this Swedish guy’s invented that costs one cent. It’s a bag that in a disaster, especially in countries around the quake zone where if there’s no toilet and it’s going to lead to Cholera and all sorts of diseases, if you pee or poo into this bag, these chemicals in it—which are organic—kill the germs. I’d never heard of it—so all of these things, we can put online. No tents please…we’re Swedish, is another great presentation from Haiti, about a Swedish company that makes solid houses in quake-affected areas, very quickly. Everybody was sending tents to Haiti which is totally the wrong thing for the climate so it’s really amazing. Anybody can access the database—you can go and find all of the presentations on Haiti online. This is what we’re trying to build—a proper foundation so there will be a database so when it happens again, you can go and look at—what do we need to look at immediately—and find ideas and solutions for the next 4 weeks, or year.

How can creativity help in these sorts of situations? Is it really something that should be considered in disaster relief efforts?

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Astrid: Well there are 3 phrases: rescue, recovery and reconstruction and of course rescue and recovery is the most immediate concern. What we’re focused on is the reconstruction bit, the long-term reconstruction.

Unfortunately people have a very short attention span. Everybody kind of stops donating right away, and it those donations tend to go into rescue and recovery. You know, there are all of these kinds of concerts, with celebrities getting together and such, and that’s all fine but what you really need is for people to be able to conduct a normal life again and that’s where a temporary shelter isn’t going to give it to them. They need proper housing, they need proper community halls, they need proper schools…they need their lives back somehow. And that’s not going to happen in the first 6 months. That is what I think we’re coming in and focusing on.

For example in Haiti, we were able to raise $80,000 for Architecture for Humanity to build a school in a damaged neighborhood. And now kids there can have a regular day and go to school—they have something that anchors them in their life. Even when they come home, they’re still in tents and it’s not normal but having this kind of regularity for kids especially is very, very important—it’s something they can count on, rely on and that’s where I think we’re really trying to make a difference by being creative.

And in terms of creativity, in general it can take your mind off what you least want to spend time thinking about. Drawing pictures and building things…you see a lot of people up in Sendai right now who are just kind of cleaning away, or simply volunteering for any work that’s out there just so that they can take their minds off what really saddens them. Because you can only take that much, and then you kind of have to switch off and do something else. And it’s just as well if it’s something creative, and it makes you feel good about doing something, something positive.

Inspire Japan Global PechaKucha Day


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