Creation from Catastrophe

How Architecture Rebuilds Communities


Starting from the Great Fire of London in 1666, the ‘Creation from Catastrophe’ exhibition takes us on a journey through a series of major man-made and natural disasters which have hit cities around the world, from the 18th century earthquake in Lisbon, to the 19th century Chicago fire, from Japan after the Second World War, up to present-day earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and nuclear disasters in Nepal, Nigeria, Japan, Chile, Pakistan and the USA. With each story of destruction comes rebuilding, and the hope and opportunity that comes with it.


The London we know is very different to the crowded mass of tall, wooden houses and narrow streets of the mediaeval time which came before the Great Fire. Huge parts of the city were destroyed during those four days which would change London forever. But as the people watched over the flames swallowing up their homes from tents outside of the city, they were already making plans. And while Charles II called out for ideas to replan the entire city, the people were already rebuilding it. The exhibition displays 5 proposals for a new London of the future. Christopher Wren’s ‘glorious design’ for a ‘dramatic reconfiguration’ of the city, of wider streets and piazzas inspired by Rome and Paris, was too expensive and complicated to build. While many of Wren’s great buildings and churches, including St Paul’s Cathedral, still stand today, most of London’s houses were rebuilt where they had been before, but this time in brick and stone instead of wood.


The exhibition then moves on and across the world, through the many ways in which nature has shaken and broken human architecture and how humans have caused the destruction of our own cities. But the exhibition’s masterplans, photography, film and architectural models show that architecture looks forward in moments of tragedy, and views disaster as an opportunity to change and improve circumstances for survivors and the next generations. In 1945, in the devastation of post-war Japan, a group of Japanese teenagers formed the architectural movement ‘Metabolism’ which ‘imagines cities as living, moving and evolving entities’. This new approach for redevelopment of post-disaster cities around the world has been used by many different international projects which try to re-imagine man’s relationship with nature. For example, building tsunami-hit cities away from the coast behind natural forest barriers, or teaching people how to rebuild their own homes from bamboo or other strong materials. This tiny exhibition is a hopeful journey through history and into the future of ‘the evolving relationship between man, architecture and nature’.


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