Abe, other dignitaries attend groundbreaking ceremony for Tokyo's new Olympic stadium

Kyodo, AP

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is confident that the new National Stadium will provide an iconic stage for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, he said at the groundbreaking ceremony Sunday.

The main construction work on the stadium in Shinjuku Ward began Dec. 1, about 14 months later than planned, after the original design plans by the late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid were discarded following a public outcry over bloated cost estimates.

“When we scrapped the original plan last July, I vowed to make the new venue one that will be celebrated by the people and the athletes, a place that can generate dreams and inspiration,” Abe said.

“The new image of the stadium will realize ‘an athlete first’ policy with the best universal design in the world and some Japanese flavor,” he said. “I am very confident that this can be the stronghold of sports and culture for the new era.”

The government settled last December on a design by architect Kengo Kuma, also present at the ceremony, who collaborated with construction company Taisei Corp. and building planner Azusa Sekkei Co.

The stadium operator, the Japan Sport Council, agreed on a contract worth about ¥149 billion this October with a joint venture including Taisei. Kuma the same month revealed Japanese-style interior design schemes.

“The 2020 Games will be the first time the IOC’s Agenda 2020 will be put into practice. The program emphasizes the legacy of the games and environmental sustainability. I’m sure the new National Stadium will be a symbol for that,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said at the ceremony. “I hope the new National Stadium will be a multifunctional legacy after the games … and one that will be loved by people for a long time to come.”

The ceremony ended with a video replete with computer graphics showing how the stadium is expected to look like and function when it is completed in November 2019.

Koike took office in July pledging to host a cost-efficient and environmentally friendly 2020 Olympics.

She has lambasted organizers for failing to keep costs under control.

Fans of the old stadium, built in the late 1950s, lobbied to keep and renovate it. But in the end the government opted to replace it with a more modern facility.

Kuma chose a wooden lattice design that echoes traditional styles seen in Japanese shrines and pagodas. It is intended to blend in with surrounding parkland and will be structured to minimize costs for heating and cooling.

The structure will use Japanese-grown larch in its wood and steel composite roof and prefabricated panels to help speed the work along and contain costs.