Danish furniture attracts female Japanese students

A bunch of female students from Jissen Womens’ University enjoy the lounge area and Fritz Hansen’s Rin chairs, designed by Japanese designer Hiromichi Konno.

Japan’s mostly private universities have a problem. The Japanese population is aging rapidly and the number of young people is decreasing. In order to appeal to potential students and their parents, Jissen Women’s University s decided to stand out in terms of architecture and furnishing, when it planned its new campus in the middle of Tokyo last year.

“My main objective was to design a university, which did not look like a university,” explains architect and Professor Norio Takata from Jissen Women’s University in the Shibuya district of Tokyo.

His aim has certainly been fulfilled. The sleek, airy and partly transparent high-rise with stainless steel and white interior is designed around an atrium providing natural lighting and visual communication. When taking the escalators, or otherwise moving around the building, you can look into the various classrooms and follow students and teachers at work. The minimalistic contemporary building is furnished with mostly European design furniture playing with various, often, outstanding colours. “I see furniture, not only as tools, but also as kind of installations,” says Takata.

For instance, when entering the building visitors are greeted by a public space looking more like a high-class café than a reception area furnished with Danish design furniture from Fritz Hansen Ltd.

Apart from the interior lounge area there is also a terrace with Danish table and chairs. Likewise, each floor of the university has numerous small seating groups for students to meet or work individually. “In other campuses, students mostly visit coffee shops outside the university, when they have no classes or organise parties. In our university the students often use the reception area,” says Takata and points to various students lounging in the Fritz Hansen furniture.

The stimulating and comfortable atmosphere is aiming at attracting students to Jissei Women’s University.

Japanese couples are getting less children and the overall population is expected to decline from the current 127 mio. to around 97 mio. by 2050. However, the demographics are even trickier when looking at age groups. Due to an increasing lifespan, the number of Japanese over 65 years old is now more than one-quarter of the total population. Proportionally it is the largest in the world. This will grow to one-third of the total population in 2035.

On the contrary, the number of 18-year old Japanese has halved to 1.2 mio. at present from 2.5 mio. in 1966. The number is expected to decrease to one mio. by 2030. Due to the trend, Japan’s 782 universities are scrambling to attract students.

Jissen has seen a slight increase in students since its Tokyo campus was finished last year. Although Takata has no concrete proof that it is because of the university’s design philosophy, the general feedback from parents and students is encouraging.

Drawing on a long career in various architectural companies, Takata was put in charge of designing the new Jissen campus, which took four years to plan and two years to construct. Apart from using design furniture, Takata also took another unusual decision. Although it is a low cost building, he included the design furniture in his first budget.

Quite often, the furniture is decided on later, when architects plan a building.

“The furniture turned out to be a very small part of the overall budget, but it has a big impact in the building,” emphasizes Takata, who counts Maki & Assoc, Renzo Piano and Helm Assoc. among his employees, before he established his own architect firm and began teaching at Jissen in 2003. He spend four years planning Jissen’s new campus in Shibuya and it was built in two years.