Change Olympic stadium design

Criticism over the design and cost of the new National Stadium planned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been strong and is well deserved. A decision should be made soon on changes that are considered necessary to make the stadium not only conform to the spirit of a resolution adopted recently by the International Olympic Committee, but also become a legacy of the games that future generations can be proud of and cherish.

In proposing the Olympic Agenda 2020 in a meeting earlier this month in Monaco, the IOC stressed the importance of “leaving a sustainable and positive legacy to the host city, the host country and the whole community.” It also emphasized that “more must be done to alleviate concerns regarding the costs and impact of hosting the Olympic Games.”

It is clear that there is a significant gap between what the plan for the new stadium stands for and the IOC’s new policy. The entities concerned, including the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Japan Olympic Committee, the Japan Sports Council (JSC), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the national government, should scrutinize the current stadium plan and make all changes necessary to ensure that it complies with the principles laid out by the IOC.

The original plan estimated that the construction of the new stadium would cost about ¥130 billion. But a close examination of the plan carried out after Tokyo was selected last year as the host city found that the construction costs would soar to about ¥300 billion. Criticism of the exorbitant price tag led to the removal of auxiliary sections and a reduction of the stadium’s total floor space. But the construction cost is still expected to reach ¥170 billion.

Critics of the project say that the stadium’s gargantuan size will cause environmental and aesthetic problems, marring the landscape of the outer gardens of Meiji Shrine — an area full of greenery that’s a popular place for city residents and tourists to relax and otherwise enjoy themselves.

If the plan proceeds without changes, a structure resembling a giant bicycle helmet will stand just behind the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, a symbol of the outer gardens that was built in 1926 to honor the Emperor Meiji and Empress Dowager Shoken, and designated in 2011 as an important cultural asset.

The stadium will drastically alter the landscape in an abhorrent manner. The height of buildings in the area has long been limited to 20 meters out of consideration for the aesthetics of Meiji Shrine’s outer gardens. But the metropolitan government’s urban planning council changed the rule, making it possible for a panel of experts established by the JSC to select a design that featured a 75-meter-high stadium. In the face of criticism, the height was lowered to 70 meters, but the structure will still tower high above its surroundings.

The stadium’s design has also raised safety fears. Takashi Moriyama, a consultant on public buildings, says that he thinks there will be no choice other than to use flexible but flammable materials for the retractable canopy, which would pose a potential threat to spectators or to people sheltering in or near the structure in the event of a major disaster. Given this and other criticism, the people involved in approving the stadium’s design have a duty to explain why they believe the plan is appropriate. If they cannot, it should be altered.

In addition, the planned stadium can accommodate 80,000 spectators. But one wonders whether sports events capable of attracting such large audiences will be held often enough to justify the stadium’s size and expense. At the very least, a design change that enables removal of the upper sections of the structure after the 2020 games should be considered to limit damage to the landscape and to reduce construction costs.

The stadium’s supporters do not have the right to leave the nation with a legacy that will be a blight on Japan’s first officially designated scenic area. The design should be reviewed and downsized in a manner that addresses financial, safety and aesthetic concerns.