As a master’s candidate in landscape architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Laura Butera’12 has been in Tokyo helping a legendary Japanese architect revitalize a community in a project that could point toward a new paradigm for design.
Butera spent the semester studying under Toyo Ito, the 2013 recipient of the Pritzker Prize – architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel – at his school Ito Juku. Recognized internationally for his beautiful spaces and innovative designs, Ito responded to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster by shifting his efforts toward a more socially-conscious form of design. His Home-For-All project, a post-disaster communal space designed for survivors, exemplifies this shift to which Butera has contributed on the southern Japanese island of Omishima, a community struggling with population flight due to urbanization.
Titled School-For-All, Butera’s project transformed a public bathhouse into an educational hub, challenging the traditional approach of architecture which is typically focused on structure. Instead, School-For-All is an education-based system that explores other ways that design can contribute to a community’s development by incorporating the consciousness of the residents.
While interviewing community members to learn how she could use design to help Omishima, Butera learned the greatest challenges were social. “That is why I approached this design project to be based more on systems than structures. It is a project that can change and adapt with the community’s needs and which promotes and enhances the culture and the unique strength of the community,” she says.
Butera’s work, which includes designing the School-For-All website, was selected for Japanese Junction, a public review forum that features the works of international architecture students studying in Japan.
An architectural studies major who minored in sociology and studio art at HWS, Butera credits her HWS experience including an internship at the Geneva Neighborhood Resource Center for much of her success. “My liberal education has allowed me to think more critically about my field and has guided me toward living a life of consequence.”