American School in Japan

HS Courtyard

American School in Japan

Conceived as a “river of learning,” the Master Plan for the American School in Japan responds to the existing physical and pedological barriers, uniting the youngest and oldest learners into one connected academic environment that erodes divisions and promotes an interconnected community.

Cropped Mt Fuji Aerial

The American School in Japan, Tokyo’s leading international school, has developed a bold new academic mission that seeks to build a community of inquisitive learners and independent thinkers. ASIJ enlisted Ennead to create a master plan that aligns the campus with this ambitious vision. Conceived as a “River of Learning,” our master plan for ASIJ reshapes the campus with a sinuous form that weaves through the property, uniting all school divisions into a singular, continuous structure. With undulating surfaces traversing a new campus green space, the plan physically mimics the curves of a river, creating continuity among grade levels, fostering social interaction, and offering dynamic connections between indoor and outdoor spaces. The design encourages students to visualize their academic journey through views and physical connections that offer constant opportunities to look back on where they’ve been, and forward to where they’re going.

“We are creating a transformational educational environment that flows like a river. A place where a child feels a dynamic sense of growth and change from moment to moment, year to year, grade to grade. A place where they are supported and celebrated as they follow their individual journey, but where they also feel a part of a strong community that moves and changes together. Just like a river, this community is formed by its environment but shapes the world around it as it grows. We are creating a River of Learning.”

Alex O’Briant
ASIJ phasing2

ASIJ’s aging, undersized academic buildings no longer support the school’s pedagogical vision, and the new master plan proposes replacing all three school divisions with a seamlessly connected series of individual projects, to be executed in six phases over a 12-year period. The phasing is structured to allow the campus to remain fully functional throughout the entire construction process. Consolidating elementary, middle, and high school students within one building allows ASIJ to blur the boundaries between grades and offers far greater flexibility to adjust the classroom balance and layout over time. The new arrangement enables integrated learning between grade levels and sets the stage for a seamless educational experience that can be adapted to the evolving needs of the students. Along its length, the building is planned with age-appropriate configurations that support progressive learning at every stage of development. The lower school spaces are organized in pods by grade, with shared areas for group interaction outside the classroom. Areas dedicated to team-based learning shape the middle school layout, providing spaces that help prepare students in the middle years for the open floor model employed by the high school, where classrooms are balanced by a rich network of “third space” for collaboration and individual learning.

The plan was developed through deep engagement with the entire ASIJ community. Intensive work sessions with students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, board members, and senior leadership allowed the project team to develop a planning vision that was deeply rooted in the needs and desires of all stakeholders. Even the River of Learning concept was derived from these conversations, when an enthusiastic fourth grader stated in one session that he thought there should be more water on campus, and maybe we could create a river through it.

ES Courtyard
Tea House

Balancing the River of Learning on the south end is a dedicated athletics neighborhood on the north. Athletics and physical education are fundamental to the mission of ASIJ and are currently compromised by dated facilities and limited space. To recapture the playing field lost to the new high school in Phase 1, a state-of the-art sports complex is tucked underneath a new secondary field lifted five meters in the air. A new pool and gymnasium are positioned partially below grade under the new field, giving them the required functional height while providing ample daylight at their perimeters. This stacking makes innovative use of the limited site space while establishing a new and independent identity for athletics on campus. The resulting long low façade glows with activity along the west edge of the site, where a new dedicated drop-off allows sports activities to operate with limited disruption to the rest of campus.

The efficient plan adds 35,000 square meters of new interior program space while also increasing both the quantity and quality of exterior space. A central Campus Green provides a focal point, unifying a currently fragmented open space network into a flowing and continuous arrangement of outdoor program spaces. An alternating rhythm of hardscape and planted zones creates soft separations, allowing different ages to enjoy the space together. The landscape is full of learning moments, such as a common vegetable garden, a traditional Japanese tea house and rice field, and a demonstration solar array. The textures, materials, and plantings evoke traditional Japanese gardens, while the warm wood patterns of the surrounding facades establish a new visual identity for the school that connects ASIJ to its Japanese cultural context while maintaining its distinct identity as an American School in Japan.

Underscoring ASIJ’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development goals, the master plan proposes a robust toolkit of solutions intended to make a sustainable and resilient campus. In the site, the design seeks to improve biodiversity, naturally manage stormwater runoff, and connect the campus community to the natural world. Use of heavy timber structural systems and wood façade elements will reduce the carbon footprint while better integrating the campus into the leafy setting of adjacent Nogawa Park. Ample high-performance glazing augmented with orientation-specific solar shading will maximize daylight and views while minimizing heat gain. Rooftop plantings and photovoltaic arrays will limit reliance on the city electrical grid and reduce heat-island effect. And the persistent visibility of sustainable design, coupled with interpretive elements such as signage and digital dashboards, will enhance the mission to help students to become stewards of their environment.

Sustainability Axon


Tokyo, Japan
561,000 GSF
Classrooms, Break Out Spaces, Gymnasium, Aquatics Center, Athletics Field, Performing Arts, Cafeteria, Administration Offices, Facilities


Ennead Design Team
Don Weinreich, Alex O'Briant, Minh Tran, Anders Evenson, Xinyue Liu, Ingrid Evenson, Todd Van Varick