Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister has stepped in as the row surrounding the mounting costs of Tokyo’s proposed Olympic stadium escalates to state that the government would, “start over from zero” and find a new design.
Commenting on the decision he said: “We’ll go back to the drawing board. The costs ballooned far beyond the initial plan and there was a great deal of criticism from the Japanese people and athletes.”
The announcement was widely regarded as a surprise move, coming just one week after Mr Abe said that it would be too late to change the design which was also to be the centrepiece for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The cost of the futuristic stadium designed by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid had nearly doubled from initial estimates of £672 million (130 billion yen) to £1.3 billion (252 billion yen).
The Tokyo stadium design created by Zaha – the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize and creator of the London 2012 Aquatics Centre – was selected following an international competition in 2012 and has polarised opinion from the start. Zaha’s futuristic proposal for Tokyo’s National Stadium will join a growing list of structures that were planned but not built by the avant-garde architect, with others including the Cardiff Bay Opera House.
Malcolm Reading, established organiser of international design competitions and Chairman
of Malcolm Reading Associates said: “This seems a classic case of an over-ambitious brief from the client, an inappropriate site and a construction market that smells easy profit with a deadline looming. To blame the architect for the outcome is disingenuous. Zaha’s office is one of the great creative studios and I suspect that the decision to scrap the project has more to do with national politics than architecture. Will it harm the office’s reputation? I doubt it: the design will join the tantalising collection of unbuilt masterpieces in the basement of Bowling Green Lane.”
Critics condemned the 80,000-seat stadium design as overly grandiose, with some likening the sprawling curved structure to a giant bicycle helmet an oyster and even a toilet seat.
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.”
The design has received heavy criticism from high-profile Japanese architects including Toyo Ito, Sou Fujimoto, Kengo Kuma and Fumihiko Maki, who launched a petition for the project to be scrapped.
Zaha, as would be expected, robustly hit back at the criticism in an interview in December, describing the architects as "hypocrites" and the situation as "embarrassing" for them.
Zaha went on to say that much of the opposition from contemporary Japanese architects stemmed from the fact that a non-Japanese had won the competition.