Introducing major changes in the design of Tokyo’s new National Stadium is a huge risk and would delay construction, says the project director.

Designed by architect Zaha Hadid, the stadium is to be used for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Its futuristic design was seen as a highlight for Tokyo’s Olympic bid.

However, heated debate has been sparked between the central government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government amid increasing budget estimates and fears that construction may not finish on schedule.

Critics are calling for a redesign of the stadium that would provide a cost-cutting solution and also shorten construction time. Some have suggested the iconic massive arches, which form the backbone for the roof, be removed from the design.

Jim Heverin, Zaha Hadid’s project director for the stadium, said last Friday it is “absolutely” possible to meet the spring 2019 completion deadline.

However, Heverin said, “It’s taken over two years to get to this point where we have a design which is ready to be constructed.

“If you introduce a major change, and over 45 percent of this project is structure, you delay statutory approval, you have to do significant redesign, and all of that takes time. You probably lose a year, and we need to start on site this year.

“The greatest risk to Japan is to not finish the stadium properly when the world is looking at Tokyo for the Rugby World Cup or for the Olympics, and the stadium is half complete, or it doesn’t look fully finished.

“You need a roof on this project, you need not only a roof to keep the rain and the sun off the spectators, you also need to support lights: You can’t show games without a lot of light and speakers. This (talk of no roof) is coming from outsiders who are standing on the sidelines, and of course these types of comments are easy to make, but the actual reality is that such types of changes introduce more uncertainty, and for no guaranteed outcome.”

Another widely discussed suggestion is postponing construction of the retractable roof, which fits in the center of the stadium roof — until after the major sports events.

Heverin sees this as a reasonable approach to relieving the time pressure on contractors.

“In Tokyo, you have a very clear brief, that you are very focused on the after-usage first, and then modifying it for the Games and the Rugby World Cup,” he said.

“There are certain parts of the project, such as the operable roof, which are really built for use after the Olympic Games,” he explained.

The mixed reception of the design and the debate surrounding the structure is not new for Zaha Hadid Architects, which has a global portfolio of large-scale projects.

“We’ve seen it before, particularly in other national projects paid for by the taxpayer, and a loss of national reputation rests on them,” Heverin said.

“(At this stage in the project) the design really has to be accepted that it is fixed, and it is about really negotiating on prices for that design,” he said.

Once people see their finished projects, he added, the response is overwhelmingly positive.

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