Memories of the Journey

Japan Engineer District
Published Aug. 23, 2019
Updated: July 29, 2019
Giving Back to the Future

The University of Miami, School of Architecture's Open City Studio invited members of the JED team to sit as jurors for a group of architecture students' final presentations.

Japan Engineer District has been in Japan since 1972. The District's primary mission is to deliver high quality, sustainable, comprehensive engineering and construction services in Japan in support of peacetime and contingency operations throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

JED is an avid supporter of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programs in the local community and installations where resident and area offices are located throughout Japan. Partnering with the STEM and Robotics Club at Zama Middle High School and participating in STEM events on Atsugi Naval Air Station.

According to the Department of Education website, STEM programs prepares students to bring knowledge and skills to solve problems, make sense of information and know how to gather and evaluate evidence to make decisions.

Another STEM related event presented itself and JED Commander Col. Thomas J. Verell Jr., jumped on the opportunity to support it. The University of Miami, School of Architecture's Open City Studio invited members of the JED team to sit as jurors for a group of architecture students' final presentations.

"Today was the final review of the Open City Studio Tokyo program where eight students presented their final projects to a group of invited jurors who expressed their opinions and observations about the projects," said Steven Fett, Professor of Architecture University of Miami. "Japan has extraordinary examples of architecture and this year in particular we focused on water; how is water controlled and understood in Japan. Studying Japan, reveals that water has always been an important part and consideration in the building of cities and buildings throughout its history.

According to the University of Miami website, the Open City Studio is an itinerant architecture and urbanism summer workshop focused on illustrating the influence of popular culture and folklore in the definition of communities worldwide. This program began in 1990 and is a traveling studio that happens over the summer. It has been held in different cities all over the globe in Europe, North and South America, the Caribbean, Asia and in more recent years Tokyo, Japan.

"As a 1993 graduate of the University of Miami, School of Architecture, it was like going back in time to when I was a student presenting projects," said Verell. "What really stood out for me, was every student's project began with a focus and study of water, but each student came up with a diverse variety of concepts and ways to show their thoughts through graphic presentation. It shows there are numerous ways to get to an architectural answer."

The Open City Studio program is a six week summer program. The students began the studio by traveling throughout Japan visiting several cities around the Inland Sea including Kyoto, Kure, Hiroshima, Ninoshima and Osaka. The studio ended in Tokyo, where the students finalized their cultural and water studies in final presentations at Arts Chiyoda, a multi-level art center.

"Today is our final presentation for the Open City Studio and I presented my project, Memory of the Journey," Jiayi Wang, student, University of Miami. "It contains the characters I see throughout the journey in Japan, like the Torii from Hiroshima, the Pagoda in Kyoto, Zen Gardens, the second Hiroshima Light Tower and other things that interested me during our journey. Everyone had different experiences and different feelings and we all have different final drawings."

The jurors from JED included members of the District's architecture, construction and engineering team.

"Colonel Verell, through his network, was able to bring a few interesting people with various backgrounds, in architectural construction and engineering," said Fett. "Their experience is a great and wonderful resource for our students."

"What stood out was the variety of the students' presentations," Steve Karwan, chief, Design Branch, Engineering Division, Japan Engineer District. "Not just what they explored, but their final products. There were a full range of artistic styles and all of the final products were all impressive."

The students received the benefit of having architecture, construction and engineering professionals come to their presentations. Students enjoyed receiving positive feedback from the jurors. This experience also was a benefit for JED and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"I have the opportunity to give back, a job with the Corps of Engineers as an intern-architect is a possibility many architecture students do not know about," said Verell.

There are many opportunities with all of the USACE Districts. The Corps is always looking for new professionals to come join the team.

"I am not solely focused on my alma mater," said Verell. "Any school that has an architecture program that brings them to Japan to do a studio, I would jump at the opportunity for JED to support them."

The benefit for the Corps is a young infusion of future designers with different mindsets that can enable the Corps of Engineers to revolutionize.

"This was a really special event for me," said Verell. "Being able to reconnect, building a bridge back to the School of Architecture and to the civilian population who may not know everything that USACE, the U.S. Army or the military is doing here in Japan."

Are you interested in working in an exciting and dynamic environment? Japan Engineer District is hiring a wide range of engineers, architects, construction and program managers to provide engineering solutions to a variety of partners that deliver positive impacts for today and tomorrow.

Benefits include living quarters allowance for eligible DoD civilian employees, post allowance, health insurance, professional and leadership development programs, and the opportunity to experience one of the richest cultures in the world. You can find our job openings at the USAJOBS website. Learn more about life in Japan Engineer District on our Facebook page and website to see if a career in Japan is right for you! To find out more information about JED please visit and