Architect Kengo Kuma dismisses alleged similarities with Hadid stadium design

by

Staff Writer

The designer of the new National Stadium denied Friday his blueprint has close similarities to one by Zaha Hadid, whose proposal was initially selected and then junked in a humiliating U-turn for Tokyo 2020 Olympics planners.

Kengo Kuma, whose flatter, less expensive design will be used for the games’ main venue, said his plan and Hadid’s differed significantly in concept and cost.

“I believe if you take a look at Zaha Hadid’s design and mine, you can see very different impressions of the building,” Kuma told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.

Following the selection of Kuma’s new proposal last month, Hadid’s company, Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), said Kuma’s design had “remarkable similarities” to hers, particularly in the stadium layout — both have three layers of seating — and the configuration of the seating bowl.

Kuma said it was inevitable that there was convergence in design when trying to give all 80,000 spectators a clear view of the action and also observing Tokyo fire regulations.

Kuma pointed out a range of differences. He compared Hadid’s to a “saddle” with the sides rising, whereas he tried to make the stadium as low and flat as possible to minimize construction costs and make the building blend with its surroundings.

Flattening the design also permitted the use of the same materials for each section, Kuma said, adding that the wooden components were not too large, an intentional measure to let even small manufacturers be involved in supply of parts.

Kuma’s design has a height of less than 50 meters — about 20 meters lower than Hadid’s — and features natural materials sourced within Japan, such as cedar and Japanese larch. This is a major departure from Hadid’s design, which critics said did not blend in with the landscape of the leafy Jingu Gaien area.

“We have looked at how to make the most of this area to make sure that the stadium is in harmony with its green surroundings,” Kuma said.

Hadid’s design was adopted in 2012 and scrapped in July 2015 amid public criticism of its price tag, ¥252 billion at the last count, a dramatic increase on the initial estimate of ¥162 billion. Its ambitious design was blamed for the extraordinary cost.

Kuma’s design will cost an estimated ¥149 billion to build.

Meanwhile, ZHA this week said it had rejected an attempt by the Japanese side to “modify” its contract, in particular a demand to surrender copyright for the building’s design.

ZHA also said it turned down a request that it agree to a nondisclosure clause in exchange for final payment — which is overdue.

It said it has been negotiating since October with the Japan Sport Council, the government-affiliated sports body that is overseeing the construction project, for payment.

An official at JSC on Thursday confirmed to The Japan Times it was discussing the overdue final payment with ZHA, but did not comment on the British company’s allegation about copyright.

Asked if he felt Hadid was rejected from the national project because she was a foreign national, Kuma said he did not think so.

“However, I would like to say that I believe it is perhaps difficult for architects from other countries to work in Japan,” due to factors such as the difficulty the nation has in communicating in English and the way it conducts meetings, he said.

Japan could make more efforts to open its doors to outsiders, he added.

Kuma’s greenery-rich design was adopted from a shortlist of two. The other contender was a work by architect Toyo Ito.

Construction giant Taisei Corp. and construction support firm Azusa Sekkei Co. will build Kuma’s design.

Construction is scheduled to finish by November 2019, well in time for the opening Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony in July 2020.

  • J.P. Bunny

    “Remarkable similarities.” Stadiums tend to be oval shaped bowls with the seating surrounding an open area in the center. Of course the design is similar. Maybe the Hadid design was stolen from the Colosseum in Rome.