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Significance of the debate over Zaha Hadid’s New National Stadium in Tokyo

Zaha Hadid’s New National Stadium in Tokyo had immense significance for the architectural discourse.

It was supposed to be completed by 2018 before the Rubgy World Cup.


The huge 80,000 seater winning stadium proposal caused controversy right after its announcement. Leading Japanese architects such as Fumihiko Maki, Kengo Kuma, Toyo Ito , Sou Fujimoto voiced their discontent with the new proposal. Sou Fujimoto told the Architects’ Journal that the campaign was set up because Zaha Hadid’s building will be “too big” in relation to its surroundings, which include Kenzo Tange’s iconic 1964 Olympic stadium. [1]Arata Isozaki, another respected Japanese architect, in a lengthy statement to the media last year likened the proposal to “a dull, slow form, like a turtle waiting for Japan to sink so that it can swim away”. [2]Fumihiko  Maki organized a symposium including architect Toyo Ito, Sou Fujimoto, Kengo Kuma protesting the giant stadium.

The expenditure estimates spiraled to almost double from initial estimates of £672 million (130 billion yen) to £1.3 billion (252 billion yen).[2]Under this growing controversy Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan cancelled the proposed stadium and told the press that they would start over from zero.

“We’ll go back to the drawing board,” Mr Abe told reporters. “The costs ballooned far beyond the initial plan and there was a great deal of criticism from the Japanese people and athletes.” He added: “The Olympics are a party for our people, and they and the athletes, each one of them, are the main players. We need to make it something that they can celebrate.” [2]

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement, Zaha Hadid Architects issued a statement emphasising that the ballooning costs were not caused by the design of the stadium itself. “It is not the case that the recently reported cost increases are due to the design, which uses standard materials and techniques well within the capability of Japanese contractors and meets the budget set by the Japan Sports Council,” it read.

“The real challenge for the stadium has been agreeing an acceptable construction cost against the backdrop of steep annual increases in construction costs in Tokyo and a fixed deadline.”

This signifies an important change on discourses of architecture. The architects were almost oblivious to public needs and demands. They turned a deaf ear to them. Maybe after this event they would turn to their fellow architects and common people to hear their concerns. The almost generic style of Hadid’s design also added fuel to the controversy. Though it came out as a winner from an architectural competition, it lacked regional balance and fine tuning when it was to be placed in a sensible sites of Japan. The original design – planned to replace Tokyo’s now-demolished 1964 Olympic national stadium – was ‘oversized’ and would have a negative impact on the nearby Meiji Shrine gardens. Therefore, a refined attitude containing sense of place was essential.

All the times architects are not the actual criminal. The requirements from the government also plays a crucial role. The Olympics itself is a huge expenditure propaganda and many a times after the completion of a game the infrastructures could not be utilized as planned. Whether it is Beijing or London the game sites remains almost vacant giving very low returns. Therefore, while designing such a structure the country should remember the fate of other constructions made for similar purpose. The requirements also needs to be considered carefully in future so not to make what Arata Isozaki calls a ‘monumental mistake’ or ‘disgrace for the future generations’. [3]

Addressing the finer nuances of contexts within a structured setting, keeping the hoary traditions of Japan in mind and taking aid of the modern technologies will hopefully make way for a sensible design which will be accepted by critics and audience alike. If implemented successfully, this could possibly change the future discourses in architecture.




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