National

Japanese architect group pushes for Yoyogi National Gymnasium to get World Heritage listing

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

A group that includes famed Japanese architects Fumihiko Maki and Kengo Kuma on Wednesday launched a campaign seeking inclusion of gymnasium facilities used in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list.

The group of architects aims to have the two buildings in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward that make up the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, and their surroundings, listed as world heritage sites before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, for which the facility will be used as one of the venues.

“I still remember being overwhelmed by the facility when I first saw it at the time of the last (Tokyo) Olympics,” said Kuma, the designer of the new National Stadium — the main venue for the 2020 Games.

The facility, Kuma said, combines beautiful design and cutting-edge engineering technology at a very high level that is rarely seen in 20th century architecture.

Yoyogi National Gymnasium, located near greenery-rich Yoyogi Park, was completed in August 1964 — 39 days before the opening of the 1964 Olympics — to be used in swimming competitions.

The area had been occupied by the United States, which had a housing complex known as Washington Heights there until the land was returned to Japan to build the gymnasium and athlete’s housing for the Olympics.

The facility is used today for sports competitions, live concerts and other events.

Its main building, characterized by its suspension roof, is known as a masterpiece of Kenzo Tange, a world-famous architect regarded as one Japan’s most significant of the 20th century.

Tange, who died in 2005 at the age of 91, was also known for designing the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and St. Mary’s Cathedral in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward.

He won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the architectural equivalent of the Nobel Prize, in 1987.

“If Tange’s work is registered, he would be the first Japanese architect whose work will be included on the World Heritage list,” Maki said. “That would be an extremely honorable milestone for us.”

For the 2020 Games, Yoyogi National Gymnasium has been designated part of the so-called Heritage Zone — an area focusing on the legacy of the 1964 Olympics. It will be used for Olympic handball competitions and Paralympic badminton and wheelchair rugby events.

Japan has 20 sites inscribed on the World Heritage list, including Mount Fuji, Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture, and the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo’s Ueno Park. The museum made the list in July as one of the 17 works of Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier.