National

Design by architect Kengo Kuma picked for Tokyo’s new Olympic stadium

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

After scrapping the first design in July, the government Tuesday picked a less-costly and greenery-rich plan by architect Kengo Kuma for the new National Stadium that will serve as the centerpiece of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The winning proposal, formerly known as design A, was submitted by a joint venture comprised of an architect, construction firm Taisei Corp. and construction support firm Azusa Sekkei Co.

It features a roof made of wood and steel for a design that draws on traditional Japanese architecture.

It has already been dubbed the “hamburger” on social media in Japan.

The height of the stadium has been set at less than 50 meters so it will fit its landscape, apparently to avoid what critics said were mistakes in the ill-fated design by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.

The decision came after five months of reviewing and rearranging the construction project after consulting athletes, professionals and other stakeholders. The new approach was made necessary when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scrapped Hadid’s design in July amid a public outcry over the opaque selection process that featured an extravagant design, a rough estimate of the construction period and snowballing costs.

“To be honest, I feel a bit relieved now,” Olympic minister Toshiaki Endo told reporters after the Cabinet met Tuesday to finalize the selection. “At the same time, I expect the winning companies to build a new National Stadium that can win trust from the world and people in Japan by taking full advantage of Japanese technologies and finishing the construction on time.”

The Japan Sport Council (JSC), which is overseeing the construction project, will finalize the contract with the winning party next month and plans to start construction as early as December 2016.

All construction is scheduled to finish by November 2019 so that the stadium will be ready for the Olympics opening ceremony in July 2020.

The estimated cost of the overall project, including construction, design and other work, is estimated at ¥153 billion, of which the central government will pay half. The rest will come from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and revenue from the sports promotion lottery organized by the JSC.

Two proposals were reviewed Saturday during 90-minute hearings for each design. The JSC’s seven-member panel specializing in architecture and landscape assessed each design based on nine criteria, including expected construction costs and time, as well as incorporating Japanese characteristics.

The winning design received 610 points. The other design, identified previously as design B which turned out Friday to have been put forward by a venture comprised of architect Toyo Ito and construction firms Takenaka Corp., Shimizu Corp. and Obayashi Corp., lost with 602 points.

Tipping the balance was the estimated construction time. While both teams projected that construction would be done by November 2019, design A received 177 points in this category, but design B got only 150.

Architect and critic Takashi Moriyama said the 27-point difference could be attributed to the panel taking a cautious stance so as to avoid making the same mistake as was made in July.

“Design B proposed an unprecedented method for construction (to shorten the building period) by using new materials to build the stadium, whereas design A proposed using a more orthodox method that is familiar to everyone … I believe the judges assessed design A as being less risky,” Moriyama said.

The design proposed by Hadid became the center of public criticism due to its futuristic but grandiose design that many thought did not fit in with the greenery-rich Meiji Jingu Gaien park area.

Because of difficulties realizing Hadid’s design, which featured two keel arches supporting a striking roof that was said to resemble the shape of a cyclist’s helmet, construction costs were estimated at up to ¥252 billion — almost double the ¥130 billion estimate when the plan was adopted by the JSC in the wake of an international design competition held in 2012.

Moriyama said the simplistic design of the winning proposal, which will have trees and shrubbery both inside the building and around it, is a good match in a landscape that for decades has been known for the several sporting facilities that crowd the area, unlike Hadid’s futuristic design that some thought would clash with existing structures.

“We feel buildings constructed with cold metallic plates and with a concrete surface to be less luxurious, no matter what the construction cost,” Moriyama said, adding that the new stadium should be embraced more warmly by Tokyo residents.

In a statement last week, Hadid’s office condemned the government’s decision to replace the existing design team with entirely new firms.

“There are now serious risks of a rushed process, with no certainty on the likely construction cost of the stadium, and that it may not be ready in time or deliver a significant sporting legacy without expensive conversion after the 2020 Games,” a spokesman for Zaha Hadid Architects said.