Japan's Olympics stadium plagued by design woes

Japan's Olympics stadium plagued by design woes
An artist's impression of Japan's new national stadium with the modified design, which accounts for a reduction in total floor area and height, among others.

Even as the clock ticks away, controversy continues to rage over the design of Japan's new national stadium, which is to be used for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, leading to worries that it may not be completed in time for the Games.

With just six years to go, major decisions have yet to be taken. No completion date has been given. But the earliest that ground-breaking can take place is October 2016, leaving barely three years for a new stadium to be ready for the opening game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which Japan will host.

But the rumpus continues over whether the stadium, even with a modification of the original design, is a colossal edifice that clashes with the surrounding cityscape of parks and other sporting facilities.

The influential Asahi Shimbun daily, in an editorial late last month, called for fresh debate to deal with the controversy and warned against making hasty decisions.

Japan, it said, has enough fine stadiums for use in the 2019 Rugby World Cup if the new national stadium cannot be up in time. "Rugby cannot be used as an excuse for any kind of snap decision," the paper said.

British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid won an international competition in November 2012 for the new 80,000-seat stadium, beating 10 other finalists including several Japanese designers.

But critics mauled it, saying her oversized stadium looked out of place in Tokyo's Jingu Gaien area, an expansive green belt lined with gingko trees and featuring baseball grounds, tennis courts, gardens and galleries.

Japanese Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura deemed Ms Hadid's design "too massive", and announced plans last October to reduce the cost and scale of her design. His ministry is in charge of sports as well.

Late last month, the Japan Sports Council (JSC) released a modified design of the stadium, which is now expected to cost 170 billion yen (S$2.1 billion), down from 300 billion yen. But it could take a whopping five billion yen a year to maintain.

The new design reflects a 20 per cent reduction in total floor area and will stand 70m high, 5m shorter than the original but still as tall as a 20-storey building.

The long flowing lines in the roof of the original design, which led people to describe the structure as a spaceship or bicycle helmet, have been abbreviated.

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