National Stadium_Asahi_27October2017
The new National Stadium on 27October2017_Asahi

Ground was broken for the new National Stadium in Yoyogi on December 11, 2016, where the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will kick off.

National Stadium_29Dec2017_1
My photo of the stadium on December 29, 2017, from the Northwest side.

Exactly a year later, the International Olympic Committee declared that Japan is on schedule with all new venues for Tokyo 2020, even the National Stadium that was put perilously behind schedule when the Japanese government demanded the organizers drop Zaha Hadid’s winning design as costs escalated from JPY130 billion to JPY252 billion.

National Stadium_29Dec2017_2
My photo – a look inside through one of the few gaps in the wall from the northeast part of the stadium.

As the IOC officials recently saw, the shell of architect Kengo Kuma’s design has risen. I took a walk around it on December 29, 2017, the area quiet as the construction crew was on holiday break. The high protective wall that surround the stadium area is clean and white, only the tiniest of views available for the pedestrian promenading the path around the wall.

National Stadium_29Dec2017_3
My photo – a view from the west of the stadium.

I looked for high ground near the stadium – office buildings and apartment buildings – but I lacked the reporter’s motivation that day to go up to a lobby receptionist or maintenance person to ask – “can I go up to the top of your building and take a picture of the stadium?”

This post has pictures I was able to take, as well as images off of the internet.

Advertisements

Construction of the National Gymnasium_AP

It’s already a year behind schedule.

When the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee decided to renege on its agreement to Zaha Hadid to build the National Stadium for the 2020 Olympics, the decision resulted in a second search for an architect, and a plan that had a year lopped off the timeline.

So while many people have faith in the Japanese construction industry to make heroic efforts to get the stadium ready in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it comes with an extra challenge – the fact that unemployment is at its lowest unemployment rate since 1995 – 2.8%. While politicians in America and Europe are looking for easy ways to produce thousands if not millions of new blue-collar jobs, Japan cannot find enough people to keep up.

The aftermath of the 2011 tsunami, aka 3.11, is still impacting Japanese society today, as construction work in the Tohoku region of Japan sucks up a large percentage of the construction worker pool. So construction companies are rushing ahead with the talent they have. In the productivity equation, that should mean longer hours for the workers.

But Japanese corporations have been warned by the government that they cannot work their people to death. Compensation claims for cases of “karoshi” (worked to death) have been steadily increasing over the years as the public realizes there are limits to the loyalty one can show one’s company or one’s leaders.

Recently, Olympic Minister Shunichi Suzuki was at the construction site of the National Stadium and said that while the work is continuing as scheduled thanks to the workflow efficiency, he warned that “working conditions must meet legal standards.”

He cited the case of a 23-year old worker who had been working on the construction site of the National Stadium, and who had committed suicide in July. According to the Mainichi, he was working well over the limit of 80 hours of overtime per month, although the records showed that he was under the limit. According to this article, the worker’s mother said that her son would routinely wake up at 4:30 am and get home at 1 am. The Japan Times stated that the suicide note of the worker stated he was “physically and mentally pushed to the limit.”

The rock of the 2020 deadline. The hard place of the worker shortage. Is there a way out of this squeeze?

Olympic National Stadium design_Kengo Kuma
Images of Kengo Kuma’s National Stadium

When you walk through Meiji Shrine, a peaceful oasis of green in the middle of Tokyo, your pulse rate drops and you forget the hustle bustle of one of Asia’s most dynamic mega-cities. Its location next to the National Stadium for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the Olympic Village made the wooded park of Meiji Shrine a wonderful place for runners to train, a la middle distance double gold medalist, Peter Snell.

When images of the planned National Stadium for the 2020 Olympics were released, there was a mixture of groans and puzzlement. Globally renown architect, Zaha Hadid, presented a design of sleek modernity. Frankly, I thought it looked like a bicycle helmet, somewhat out of place in its surroundings.

National Stadium and Meiji Shrine_google maps
National Stadium and Meiji Shrine on Google Maps

Then suddenly, in July, 2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scratched plans for the design of the new National Stadium planned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It was revealed that the estimated cost of the stadium ballooned from JPY252 billion, from the original proposal of JPY130 billion, an approximate difference of USD1 billion. Scrapping Hadid’s design meant a massive delay, resulting in a particularly embarrassing broken promise. Plans to have the new national stadium host the 2019 Rugby World Cup also had to be scrapped, resulting in a move of the tournament to Yokohama.

TOCOG quickly put together another search for a stadium designer. And suddenly, Kuma Kengo, whose design was selected, was in the spotlight. Not only will the cost of the Kengo stadium be closer to the originally proposed estimate (JPY150 billion), the design of the stadium will more seamlessly blend into the environment.

Kuma has built a reputation for his use of wood, and plans to employ wood, particularly wood grown in all prefectures of Japan, to fashion a stadium that folds into the relatively green surroundings, as he explains in this Nippon.com interview:

Instead of the old-fashioned idea of putting up a huge monument, my idea is to create a stadium that people will remember as part of the Meiji Shrine outer gardens, the wooded area in which it’s located. And we’re planning to uncover the Shibuya River, which was put underground during the rapid-growth years, and have it flow at surface level through the stadium grounds. I believe that creating something sustainable for future generations, with the surrounding nature open to the public, is a more important considerations than the physical shape of the edifice, and so that’s what I’ve been focusing my efforts on.

Kuma was 10 years old when the 1964 Olympics came to Tokyo. He remembers witnessing the rapid growth of the post-war years, and being amazed in particular by the two complementary buildings of the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, built for the aquatic and basketball events. According to the Nippon.com article, he remembers often visiting the First Gymnasium designed by legendary architect, Tange Kenzo. “The light shining down from the windows in the high ceiling made the water of the pool sparkle. I was captivated by this sublime sight, and that was what made me decide that I wanted to become an architect.”

 

Yusuhara Town Hall_Kengo Kuma
Yusuhara Town Hall

 

Over the years, Kengo has become known for his use of wood in his designs, in ways that recall times when wood was the primary construction material, layered, and exposed to the elements. Design website, Icon, describes Kengo’s work in detail:

Kuma’s approach is perhaps best illustrated by a series of buildings he has built in and around a small town called Yusuhara on Japan’s southern Shikoku island. The Yusuhara Town Hall (2006) sits under a roof and frame of Japanese cedar in a traditional structural arrangement, but one that gives off more than a hint of high-brutalism in the strong articulation of its thick beams and columns. The outside features a series of timber panels of various dimensions, alternating with glazed panels – a genuinely interesting take on the “barcode” facade.

Yuuhara hotel and market_Kengo Kuma
Yusuhara hotel and shops

A small hotel and market (2010) that Kuma built nearby is just as unconventional, with a curtain wall on the main facade made of straw bales and bamboo that can actually be opened out to allow light and ventilation through – a very odd combination of rustic material and hi-tech detailing. But the wooden bridge building (ICON 101) that Kuma built over a road to link a spa and hotel on the outskirts of the town is stranger still. Here is a version of traditional Japanese roof construction blown up to super-large scale, a series of single wooden elements all overlapping and stepping up towards the bridge itself. It is this radical re-imagining of a historic building material or method of construction that one sees time and time again in Kuma’s work.

I’m truly excited for the debut of Kengo Kuma’s national stadium. I feel it will not only be appreciated for its uniquely Japanese sensibilities, but will be a lasting legacy of the 2020 Games, a fitting complement to its green surroundings, particularly the peaceful Meiji Shrine.

“I want to go beyond the era of concrete,” Kuma, 62, said in this Japan Times interview. “What people want is soft, warm and humane architecture. We will show the model of a mature society in the stadium. That’s the way to live a happy life relying on limited natural resources from a small land.”

Kengo Kuma profile
Kengo Kuma
Winning National Stadium Design
Winning design for 2020 Olympics National Stadium

 

Oops!

If you’re going to design an Olympic Stadium, you have to include plans for a very large cauldron that feeds the Olympic flame for two weeks.

Due to increasing costs that strained the patience of even government bureaucrats, the stadium design by world renowned architect, Zaha Hadid, was scrapped quite suddenly, pitting the Japanese government and the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee in a pissing match with the architect.

Subsequently, new designs were rushed into competition, and the winning architect stated that the stadium would not be completed in time for the 2019 World Rugby Cup, which has been particularly unpleasant and embarrassing for the organizers.

And now it was revealed that the winning architects forgot to design a place for an Olympic cauldron, something that the IOC specifically stipulates must be visible both inside and outside the stadium. On top of that, the new design will rely heavily on wood in the interior part of the stadium. As you should be reminded, wood is susceptible to burning. And bringing a massive fire close to wood may have negative ramifications.

But the designers will move things around and find some innovative fix that will allow a fantastic stadium to be built. After all, they caught this design flaw early. Let us not forget, there have been many instances where design flaws hidden or ignored eventually led to disaster. Here’s a great link called, The 50 Worst Architecture Fails. And here are a few of the more interesting fails:

The Aon Center
The Aon Center in Chicago, Illinois

The Aon Center: This skyscraper in Chicago, Illinois used carrara marble on the exterior of this building. When a marble slab fell off and crashed into the roof of the neighboring building, they decided that it was safer to spend USD80 million to resurface the building than wait for another marble slab to fall to earth.

Lotus Riverside
The Lotus Riverside in Shanghai, China

The Lotus Riverside: This 13-story residential structure in Shanghai, China fell over due to the effects of an underground parking lot being built underneath. Actually, the reason is kind of complicated. Here’s how the article explained it: “When creating a parking structure beneath the building, workers had placed removed earth into a nearby landfill The weight of the added dirt caused the banks of a bordering river to collapse and the resulting water infiltrated the building’s base, turning the foundation to mud and causing the building to topple onto its side.”

highway 19 overpass
Highway 19 Overpass in Laval, Quebec, Canada

Highway 19 Overpass: A 20-meter section of an overpass in a Montreal suburb simply broke off and dropped to the road below, killing five people in their cars.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge: Opened on July 1, 1940, this suspension bridge in Tacoma, Washington lasted only four months. Yes, when you don’t pay for support materials like trusses and girders, you definitely save money. There are other costs however. Watch this amazing video of the bridge actually breaking apart in the 40 mph wind.