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Tsunami-destroyed neighborhoods returning in 3-D worlds, asahi shinbun, 9/4/2014

Memories of communities lost to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami are being brought back to life through the magic of 3-D imagery.

A team led by University of Tsukuba associate professor Akinobu Murakami and Tokyo Metropolitan University assistant professor Eiko Kumakura is creating a digital archive that uses 3-D images to reproduce neighborhoods that were swept away during the March 2011 disaster.

The team is recreating six coastal communities in the Tamaura area of Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture, through various means, including the memories of those who once lived there.

“The fading of shared memories such as scenery and festivals is a grievous loss to a community’s continued existence,” Murakami said. “We want this archive to lead to the creation of their next place of residence.”

Murakami and his team started off the project using maps and pre-earthquake satellite imagery to identify such things as houses, fields, trees and other natural features. They examined common shapes and layouts in the neighborhoods, then reproduced the communities as best they could in virtual space.

The team started holding workshops with the former residents in spring this year, using their feedback to make the virtual world more accurate.

“I think there was a fire watchtower here,” said one resident. “The shape of the roof is wrong,” said another.

“There was a vending machine here,” according to a former resident.

The team is using the three-dimensional modeling software CityEngine to create the computer-generated world so users can feel like they are actually walking down the streets of the communities and experience what they were like before the disaster struck.

The team plans to release the archive online next year and wants to expand the project to other communities in the disaster zone.

About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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