Tokyo’s New Olympic Stadium, an Exciting New Definition of Dull

By Fred Varcoe

Tokyo has a new Olympic Stadium. The National Stadium has been officially opened after a long and painful saga that clouded Tokyo’s Olympic preparations as well as the Rugby World Cup.

After deciding on a brilliant, futuristic design by Zaha Hadid, Japan’s organizers were slow to realize that their showpiece stadium would be credited to a muslim woman based in England. In a country known for xenophobia and nationalist pomposity, it was a massive own goal.

Japan’s leading right-wing dimwit, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, stepped up to the plate and declared: “This is a proudly homogenous country and we’re not going to have any foreign tart messing up our capital city with some space-age monstrosity.”

OK, he didn’t exactly say that. He said: “We have decided to go back to the start on the Tokyo Olympics-Paralympics stadium plan and start over from zero. I have been listening to the voices of the people for about a month now, thinking about the possibility of a review. The construction cost had been greatly inflated and there were criticisms from the public including the athletes on the plan. This made me believe that we will not be able to host a Games that everyone in this country will celebrate.”

Mr. “Back to Zero IQ” Abe never listens to the people, unless those people are the right-wing nuts he has in his government. The claim was that the Hadid stadium, which was stunning in its concept, would prove to be too expensive, even though the design was within the budget considerations set out by the organizers.

“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,” a statement from Hadid’s company said.

More to the point was the baying of Japan’s architects, who were all less young, less female, less muslim and less talented than Hadid.

“I’ve never felt so emotional about any kind of architecture up until now,” Tokyo-based architect Edward Suzuki told Reuters. “But it’s happening in my garden, in our garden … We just can’t let it happen. It’s a sin, it’s a crime. It’s so overpowering, it’s not a human scale. It’s going to replace all the trees that had once been there. It was a park. Now it’s just going to be a very man-made object that is not really beautiful to look at.”

One must assume that Suzuki is a blind architect. Or a liar. The myth that Hadid’s stadium would wipe out a “park” was a lie. There were a few trees around the old stadium, but they were planted in concrete. It was not a park.

Hadid’s proposed structure was spectacular, but also stunningly beautiful. Some said it was too high. Also rubbish. Who has complained about architectural monstrosities such as Roppongi Hills or Tokyo Midtown or the ugly 50-story communications tower at Japan’s Self-Defence Forces headquarters in the middle of the city. No one. Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki organised a symposium for Japanese designers including Toyo Ito and Kengo Kuma to protest against the size of the design. A number of Japanese architects were among the 11 finalists in the competition to design the stadium.

“I think it’s embarrassing for them, that’s all I can say,” Hadid said. “I understand it’s their town. But they’re hypocrites. They don’t want a foreigner to build in Tokyo for a national stadium.”

So, Tokyo has a new National Stadium designed by one of the protesting architects, Kengo Kuma. It’s way bigger than the old stadium and admittedly looks a lot better than the 1964 design, but it’s a 20th century lump of concrete (Wait, don’t forget the wood!) that looks pathetic when compared with Hadid’s 21st century design.

Kuma said he did not think that the Japan Sport Council had decided against working with Hadid because she was a foreigner, but added that working in Japan as a non-Japanese might be ‘challenging.’

Almost as duplicitous as his prime minister, who at the opening ceremony in December stated: “We revised the project, and today, we have arrived at this moment to announce the completion of the National Stadium, which has the world’s utmost universal design and is in harmony with the surrounding environment.

“I believe that there have been difficult times leading up to the completion of the National Stadium, which will serve as the symbol for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. There was the alteration (of the design), but it was successfully completed with an ‘All-Japan’ effort.” The prime minister blended in well with the concrete and wood used for the new “All Japanese” stadium.

Hadid died before the new stadium was completed. Probably just as well. If she’d seen it, it would have killed her anyway.

Leave a Reply