Now that the celebrations surrounding the announcement that Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics have died down, attention is turning to the physical transformations that this will bring the city, for better or for worse.

Front and center is the scheme for the New National Stadium, designed by Iraq-born U.K.-based Zaha Hadid. Selected as the winner of an international competition in November 2012, this stupendous mother ship of a building, looking uncannily like an intergalactic bike helmet, is set to obliterate the existing Kasumigaoka National Stadium near Sendagaya, the central venue of the 1964 Olympics.

With a capacity of 80,000, the new stadium nearly doubles the seating capacity of the existing stadium, and it will be the first Olympic stadium to boast a retractable roof. These features aside, renderings of the proposal show it looming incongruously above the leafy surroundings of the Meiji Outer Garden, dwarfing other major public buildings, including Meiji Memorial Picture Galley and the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, designed by Fumihiko Maki.

This overwhelming scale mismatch, along with anxieties about cost and overall design character, have compelled an eminent grouping of prominent architects, including Toyo Ito, Kengo Kuma, Riken Yamamoto, and led by Maki, to issue an unusual public call to revisit the design. The goal, Maki says, “is not to dispute the choice of architect, but to reconsider the program, which is much too large.”

Given the firepower of the names backing this call and its evident widespread support within the local profession, not to mention current cost estimates more than double the initial budget, this topic is sure to be a subject of animated discussion in the city over coming months.

Zaha Hadid Architects: www.zaha-hadid.com

‘City Tales’ workshop rethinks urban space

Reshaping a city for the Olympics, with globally visible events, iconic venues and state prestige at stake, is a paradigm case of top-down urbanism. However the question of what makes a city truly livable or even lovable for its citizens is rarely addressed convincingly by such approaches. Citizen-centered, bottom-up perspectives are more effective in identifying the small but significant problems of daily life ripe for improvement, and in clarifying the heart and soul of a city.

This approach underlies an experimental educational initiative by Shibaura House, a private-sector community space housed in a luminously transparent building located near Tokyo’s Tamachi Station and designed by Kazuyo Sejima. Shibaura House’s annual “Critical Studio” aims to gather young creatives and professionals to work on contemporary themes over a period of six months under the guidance of a number of distinguished international guest tutors from various fields.

This year, the second year of its operation, the studio theme is “City Tales,” focused on engaging with Tokyo’s urban space through a sensibility attuned to the human stories embedded within it. With backing from the Netherlands Embassy, there is a distinctly Dutch flavor to the selection of international guests, who are drawn from diverse fields, including architecture, journalism, art, digital design and advertising. The invited Japanese tutors include Tokyo-born, Amsterdam-based architect Moriko Kira and MOT Chief Curator Yuko Hasegawa, embodying a vision of Japanese creativity that is confident, cosmopolitan and emancipated, and providing inspiring role models for the young participants.

The outcomes of the studio, to be mounted as an exhibition at Shibaura House next March and in Amsterdam next May, promise to offer an alternative window into Tokyo’s urban future, likely less futuristic but more sympathetic and promising than that imagined by Zaha Hadid.

Shibaura House: www.shibaurahouse.jp/citytales

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