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Architectural Design Alumna Helping Reduce Tsunami Damage

Detail from Akane Bessho's Thesis

Detail from Akane Bessho's thesis

Detail from Akane Bessho's Thesis

Detail from Akane Bessho's thesis

Posted 08.10.16

Akane Bessho ’16 (Architectural Design, B.F.A.)When Akane Bessho '16 (Architectural Design, B.F.A.) came to MICA, she thought she would "be told exactly how to draw things."

Her experience on campus, however, was very different from those early expectations. Rather than having students adhere to a specific style or approach to design and making, faculty instead focused intently on bringing out each student's creative voice.

"Being told how to do things, I learned that's not the best attitude to have as an artist or designer in real life. MICA especially tried to bring out each individual's style instead of oppressing it, so I learned to be more self-driven and self-learning. I strongly hope more people understand that artists and designers have this thinking process in addition to creative skill sets," Bessho said. "I believe this creative attitude can be applied to any other field."

Testament to the belief that creative skills can be applied well beyond traditional art and design settings is the work on tsunami mitigation that Bessho began even before she graduated from MICA.

As a rising senior, she traveled to Sendai in the Tohoku region of Japan to lend her creative design and thinking abilities to a research project focused on the role seawalls and coastal forests play in reducing tsunami damage. The results of that work were published in the journal PLOS ONE on Aug. 10, and the recent MICA graduate, who is a native of Nagoya, Japan, is listed as one of the research paper's co-authors.

It was through a MICA faculty member, Katie O'Meara, that Bessho became involved with the tsunami research project. As an Architectural Design major with an interest in landscape architecture and urban design, Bessho served as a research intern for O'Meara, who was working on a team investigating the vulnerability of the Mid Atlantic region to repeated heat waves and hurricanes. Much of Bessho's work on that project involved mapping areas in and around Baltimore.

O'Meara eventually introduced Bessho to Jeremy Bricker, associate professor in the International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University in Japan, another of the study's co-authors. O'Meara explained, "We had international partners in Japan, and I suggested Akane meet with them when she went home for Christmas break. She did, and was invited to intern with Jeremy the next summer. So she was able to use her mapping skills on their tsunami research."

Bessho spent a month at Bricker's lab in Sendai, where she collected land-use information from old Japanese books and researched detailed casualty and destruction reports from the devastating tsunami of 2011. She also produced a basic geographic information system (GIS) map for area reference.

"At first, I did not have any specialized knowledge in wave calculation or statistical analysis," she explained, adding, "But I enjoyed discovering what I could do to contribute to the research process with my own toolset. I am so thankful of having so many tools - such as Adobe 3D modeling and GIS - to work with."

"Akane's work was significant enough that she was listed as a co-author on the tsunami research paper. That doesn't surprise me, because she is an extraordinary student. I've worked with several interns from MICA in my own research, and they all really step up when asked and do some difficult work," O'Meara said.

Bessho will attend the University of Tokyo this fall as a graduate student studying sustainability science. She hopes to learn about greening in cities and effective uses of abandoned forests.

"Art was part of my important identity during high school, and my art teacher introduced me to MICA's close community where professors care about students; going to MICA was a great decision," Bessho said.

This page was last updated on 11/14/2016.