TOKYO: Japan on Tuesday chose a new, slimmed down 2020 Olympic stadium design, after an earlier version set off a row over a $2 billion price tag that would have made it the world’s most expensive sports venue.
The country’s preparations for the global games suffered a humiliating setback this year when the government pulled the plug on the original stadium plan by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid following spiralling costs and complaints over the design.
Two new plans both by Japanese architects and with sharply lower cost estimates were released last week by the Japan Sport Council, which is overseeing the project.
After deliberations, the JSC chose the slightly cheaper of the two, a joint venture involving renowned architect Kengo Kuma with an estimated cost of approximately 149.0 billion yen ($1.2 billion).
“I think this is a wonderful plan that meets criteria such as basic principles, construction period and cost,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a special cabinet meeting on the design.
The winning proposal, which beat one involving Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning Japanese architect Toyo Ito, is far below the price estimated under the now-ditched design by Hadid. Besides cost, her plan also drew complaints over aesthetics.
Under the new plan, construction is to be completed in November 2019, ahead of the January 2020 deadline demanded by the International Olympic Committee.
Tokyo is due to host the opening ceremony on July 24 that year.
“I am feeling the weight of the awesome responsibility,” Kuma told private broadcaster Nippon TV right after the announcement.
The new plan aims to “create Japanese tradition” by using steel frames and wood with a concept of a “stadium of trees and green”, according to documents submitted to the JSC.
It will have a height of 49.2 metres (162 feet), lower than the original design of 70 metres, which was criticised as too high and for being a potential eyesore on Tokyo’s skyline.
The new plan, which calls for five floors above ground and two below, involves placing greenery on stadium decks to shut out Tokyo’s scorching summer sunshine. Seating capacity will be about 68,000.
The other proposal, at 54.3 metres high, also featured a traditional Japanese touch in the use of 72 wooden columns, but planned three floors above ground and two below.
Explaining his design concept after the announcement, Kuma told reporters he wanted to use wood in the stadium’s partial roof “so spectators will feel surrounded” by the natural material as they watch events.
He added that merging the stadium with the abundant greenery surrounding the venue would prove to be a “legacy” of “Japanese style” that would outlast the 2020 event.
Abe shocked Olympic organisers in July when he pulled the plug on Hadid’s futuristic design as soaring costs put it on course to become the world’s most expensive sports stadium.
Japan demanded the new designs be more than 40 percent cheaper, setting a 155 billion yen cap on construction costs.
The stadium fiasco has pushed back the new venue’s completion date, embarrassing Japanese sport officials who have also been forced to find an alternate showpiece site for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which the country is hosting.
Following Tokyo’s decision to scrap the original design plans, former sports minister Hakubun Shimomura in September said he would step down.
The new stadium will be built on the site of the one used as the main stadium for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The neighbourhood is surrounded by greenery including parks and Japanese Shinto shrines.
Tokyo Olympic organisers have also faced another headache after plagiarism allegations scuttled its first logo for the games and are in the process of selecting a new design after having received more than 14,500 suggestions from the public.