Reform of Holistic Architectural Education in Japan

September 2000

Tsuneo Okada
Architectural Institute of Japan

1. Introduction


This document is drafted to give an overview of the Architectural Institute of Japan (AIJ) reform plan of Japanese architectural education (including design and technology) which is now under investigation by the committee within AIJ, expecting the foreign concerned people to understand the significance of this plan.

This reform plan attempts to rectify the shortcomings of holistic architectural education in Japan while maintaining its benefits. It also tries to ensure comparability among Japanese holistic architectural education and the architectural education in other countries. At the same time it aims to formulate an excellent and unique architectural education system in Japan. Following this reform plan, Japanese architectural education will produce a wide variety of excellent architects and related specialists required by the coming new era and will contribute to the development of architectural culture in the future as an education system rooted in Japan's unique regime, society, and tradition, while providing for the international trend towards mutual recognition of architectural qualifications.

Past commitments by AIJ

In 1998, AIJ submitted a paper to UIA/PPC at Washington and described the unique features of Japan's holistic architectural education and asked for your understanding (see attachment). Through strenuous and careful discussions for two years, we were able to get to conclude one direction of educational reform, which will enhance Japanese education and also ensure international comparability as described below.

If the validation committee is to be organized in the UIA, not only to the regional committees but also to the coordination group we request that sufficient discussion be made in regard to the significance of comprehensive architectural education as practiced in Japan. Though we already made this request at UIA/PPC in 1999 at Prague, we would like to request again that a flexible framework of architectural education and accreditation be formulated paying respect to local cultures and traditions, and that the concept of educational reform in Japan be approved.

Japan's comprehensive architectural education system is widely supported in Japan and is smoothly functioning as a practical system. Moreover, many foreigners concerned with architectural education express understanding of the Japanese comprehensive architectural education system, and some professional architects also support it.

RIBA, one of the most dignified architectural professional body, also used to advise to British architectural educational organizations the implementation of a comprehensive education system in which joint programs were carried out with other fields, suggesting that the organization was fully aware of the importance of comprehensive architectural education. (Stephen Trombley, The Oxford Conference and after: an interview with Elizabeth Layton, Architectural Education I, pp. 89-97, RIBA Magazines Ltd., 1983)

AIJ believes that the significances and realities of Japanese holistic architectural education system are already understood thoroughly as an expression of UIA's policy to accept local cultures, systems, and traditions regarding architectural education. AIJ expects that respects of local cultures and tradition of architectural education and some form of approval of flexible education systems be expressed in the final text.

2. Advantages, disadvantages and realistic reform of Japan's holistic architectural education

Japanese schools for holistic architectural education provide a wide variety of subjects, covering not only architectural design but also building structure, building environments, and building construction and management. Its advantages and disadvantages are roughly summarized as follows. Most disadvantages can be improved by the reform plan described below.

At the same time, this education system is closely related to the Japanese national license system of architects and building engineers. A realistic reform must be devised also from the aspect of their social functions as supported by the holistic education.

  • A wide variety of specialists can be supplied to various fields related to architecture.
  • A wide range of common knowledge is available for any students of a wide variety of specialties related to architecture and building (not only in the field of design, structure, and construction technology but also compatibility with urban design, harmony with landscape, resource and energy conservation, environmental issues, information technology, etc.).
  • As students progressively specialize in their respective areas after entering schools until graduation, they can select suitable specialist areas according to their aptitudes.
  • The wide variety of jobs related to architecture helps students find an area they are good at even after graduation.
  • The chance of dropping out is reduced, and a wide variety of jobs are open to graduates.
  • Various fields offer jobs to graduates even in economic recession, alleviating job shortages.
  • Graduates can flexibly change their specialties without big difficulties after entering the workforce according to the conditions of the workplace.
  • Graduates can better comprehend the work of other specialists they work with resulting with good communications.
  • Present system of four-year study at the undergraduate level is insufficient for absorbing the extensive knowledge of architecture and related engineering.
  • As the education at graduate schools currently retains the nature of educating researchers, it is not always directly linked to enrichment of practical education, though the number of graduate students is increasing.
  • There are students who do not appropriately make use of the wide variety of courses available, instead selecting only courses whose tests are easy to pass, without studying hard to prepare for their future professions.
  • As the scale of the department (numbers of teaching staff and students) becomes larger and the curriculum includes wider options, the latitude for the choices of courses is enlarged, eventually leading to ineffective use of the widened variety of the curriculum.
  • Sometimes, prospective employers cannot grasp easily the specialties of the students at the recruitment activities.
  • The framework of the education system is not in line with the systems of foreign countries, causing various obstacles (credit certificates for foreign students, qualification of graduates from Japanese universities who wish to continue studying abroad, same problems of the specialists who work abroad, etc. ).
Realistic reform and comparability with foreign education systems

The fact that most architecture departments of Japanese universities provide education covering not only architectural design but also building structure, environmental engineering, and building construction technology and management are closely related to the Japanese comprehensive license system of "Kenchikushi" (a national qualification system covering such areas as architectural design and building engineering). As such an education system actually performs a social function peculiar to Japan in job placement of graduates and occupational activities, it defies simple unification with other countries' systems. Amid the current reform of architectural education, it is more realistic to ensure comparability with foreign educational systems, which are diversified into architectural design, structural technology, etc.

In this case, the framework to be established will provide education superior to the international level, rather than simply realize the same level of education as other countries.

3. Principles of Japan's reform of architectural education

Most Japanese institutions for architectural education will maintain their holistic architectural education systems to retain the advantages and reform their disadvantages, including establishment of international comparability, to address the problems of the Japanese systems and enhance current architectural education.

Specifically, the holistic educational framework will incorporate the possibility of multiple technical education programs, such as architectural design (architect training) programs, as well as building structure, environmental engineering, and construction system and management programs, to increase the specialty of the contents of education and strengthen the practical ability buildup.

Educational programs based on architectural education for 6 years will be formulated as a standard by combining 4 years at the undergraduate level and 2 years for a master's degree course.

Also, comprehensive accreditation suitable for Japanese architectural education will be implemented at intervals meeting international requirements to promote educational reform.

The implementation of the educational reform will take a significant period of time, since it involves improvement of various factors that cannot be readily changed, such as equipment and staffing of educational institutions. A substantial preparation period will also be necessary for Japanese educational institutions with no experience of nongovernmental accreditation.

4. Reform plan for holistic architectural education

Main points of educational reform

The reform of the Japanese architectural education will be implemented based on the following seven points:

  • Improve the quality of researcher education in graduate schools
  • Maintain holistic education at the undergraduate level and formulate specialized subprograms mainly for master's degree courses
  • Form an internationally comparable framework of a 6-year program by combining the undergraduate holistic education and specialized subprograms (architectural design, etc.) in graduate schools
  • Permit simultaneous study for multiple subprograms
  • Strengthen practical ability buildup in subprograms
  • Implement accreditation
  • Appropriate certification of progress/completion of programs by educational institutions to promote job placement and motivate students.
Reform of architectural education by formulating multiple subprograms

Several specialized subprograms mainly for master's degree courses will be incorporated in the comprehensive curriculum. Program criteria have been formulated and are now being coordinated for four programs: architectural design, building structure, building environment, and construction system and management. Other new programs will also be incorporated later.

In this case, the following points should be considered:

  • Respect the independence of educational institutions. Each institution is given considerable latitude for creativity particularly as to what and how many programs will be formulated in each department depending on the conditions of each institution.
  • Standardize the subprogram framework. When the same subprogram titles, such as "architectural design" and "building structure," are used, excessively wide differences in the program contents should be avoided. For the time being, such standardization should be limited to the unification of study items and maintenance of the level of study. Mechanical enforcement, such as unification of subject titles, will not be done for now.
  • Carry out sufficient personal guidance about the selection and pursuing of programs, particularly subprograms.
  • Respect voluntary decisions of students about the selection of programs. The "course" system that divides students into groups may not necessarily be adopted.
  • Apart from graduation of holistic architectural education, the degrees of progress and completion of programs should be certified accordingly on the responsibility of each department.
Promotion of practical ability buildup

Practical ability buildup will be intended accordingly in respective programs.

To this end, realization of an educational system that ensures the acquisition of the ability required by the program criteria will be promoted.

Experienced practitioners will be included in the teaching staff. Involvement of practitioners in education will also be promoted.

Research conditions will be improved, while education of researchers will be rationalized and strengthened, so that enriched education does not lead to stagnant research. Particular care will be exercised for striking a balance between research and acquisition of practical abilities.

Education for management, information technology, and professional ethics, which have not been sufficiently taught in Japan, will be strengthened or implemented on a trial basis.

Implementation of accreditation

Periodic accreditation will be implemented to promote the above-mentioned reform and assess its effects. In this case, the composition and effect of respective subprograms will be assessed simultaneously with the composition of comprehensive programs. The validity of the level of achievement of each program will also be assessed.

Architects and other practitioners will be involved in determining the method of such evaluation, as well as in actual evaluation.

Coordination will be necessary with the accreditation system for engineer education in general before deciding the specific methods of implementing the accreditation for architecture and building engineering. However, the details are yet to be investigated for the time being.

Number of students to take architectural design programs

Graduates from Japanese architecture-related departments total more than 10,000 every year, far exceeding foreign counterparts. However, these include a wide variety of specialties, such as building structure engineers and building equipment planner, as well as those who are going to be in charge of building construction as employees of contractors and those who will be involved in construction administration as government employees. When the above-mentioned reform of architectural education is implemented, the number of students who take the subprogram of building design will be much smaller than the total mentioned above, ending up in a reasonable number when compared with other countries.

In Japan, it is impossible to authorize only departments of architecture of universities specializing in education of architects as special educational institutions for architects and enforce a system whereby only the graduates of the selected universities are permitted to become architects. Such a limitation will spoil the future of students, who would have grown to excellent architects in a holistic educational system.

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