Japan shrinks 'too big' 2020 Olympics stadium

TOKYO - Japanese sports officials on Tuesday bowed to growing criticism that a massive stadium planned for the 2020 Olympics was too big and costly, saying they would shrink the building's area.

The proposed stadium, designed by London-based Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, is intended to occupy a spot in west Tokyo currently occupied by the national stadium, an area with numerous parks and a large Shinto shrine.

The new 70-metre (230-foot) architectural centrepiece - a futuristic, bike-helmet-shaped stadium - has drawn criticism that it would tower over other structures in the area, which are limited to a 15-metre height restriction, and would be visible all over the Japanese capital.

On Tuesday the Japan Sport Council (JSC), which is in charge of running the current and future stadium, announced it would scale back the floor space by one-quarter to 220,000 square metres.

That would cut construction costs to about 180 billion yen (S$2.25 billion), Japanese media reported, well down from 300 billion yen for the bigger building. Officials on Tuesday did not release a revised cost estimate.

"While we are still using Zaha Hadid's design, we now plan to downsize it," a JSC official told an expert panel which approved the new blueprint.

The reportedly slimmed-down cost is still nearly 40 percent above the government's initial estimates for a new stadium.

Officials said the building would meet International Olympic Committee conditions including seats for 80,000 spectators, a retractable roof and movable seats to adjust their configuration for different sporting events.

The height estimates would remain unchanged.

That would make the stadium visible from all over the west of Tokyo, including from the immaculately-kept National Shinjuku Gyoen Park, a green lung tucked underneath the skyscrapers of Shinjuku.

"We made this plan after taking into consideration opinions" expressed by architect Fumihiko Maki and other high-profile critics, JSC president Ichiro Kono told reporters.

Maki is an award-winning architect responsible for one of the new towers for the World Trade Center complex in New York. He also renovated a building near the site of the new stadium.

The yet-to-be-built complex will replace the existing 54,000-seat stadium that was used during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Japan's coming out party as a modern, industrial nation.

It will also play host to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.