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Japan's Olympic Stadium Debacle May Change the Way Cities Build Sports Venues

Illustration for article titled Japans Olympic Stadium Debacle May Change the Way Cities Build Sports Venues

After years of controversy, Japan’s Sport Council has chosen a new design for an Olympic stadium in Tokyo. It will be be smaller, more sensitive to its surroundings, and (relatively) inexpensive—and it could be a model for other host cities.


It’s been more than two years since Japan’s architects first revolted against the New National Stadium planned for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games. The group high-profile architects called it oversized, ridiculous-looking, and wildly more expensive than the city could handle—cauterizing locals to march against the proposed design, and ultimately, lead to the abandonment of the Zaha Hadid-made design, which would have cost $2 billion.

Over the past few months, the government has scrambled to stage a new competition for a new design, and today they released two (anonymous) frontrunners to The Japan Times.


We don’t know many details about the nameless proposals (“A” and “B”), but they’re already radically different than pretty much any contemporary Olympic stadium. For example, both use a renewable resource rarely found in stadiums—wood—structurally in an effort to make the buildings less overbearing and integrate them subtly into the surrounding parkland. They’re also low-slung buildings—again, the keyword here is subtle—and one is even “sunken” into the ground so that the total height is only 165 feet, according to Japan Today. It also camouflages itself with plantings along the facade.

But while the designs seem to be more context-sensitive and thoughtful, what’s really telling about the way the stadium debacle has affected the development process? The fact that they’re being released at all. Many stadium designs are only revealed once they’ve been chosen, but the Japanese Sport Council released these two front-runners well in advance of a final decision. And crucially, they included the cost. While neither stadium is cheap (at $1.2 and $1.3 billion) they’re half as expensive as the original proposal.

It’s an unusual move in the world of stadium development, but it should be standard operating procedure for every major stadium. Hopefully, the council’s decision to share the designs will usher in an era when cities are more transparent about how major sports events are developed. With voters all over the world rejecting their cities’ bids to host the Olympics, it seems that cities are listening—and Japan, which has spent the past two years embroiled in debate over a $2 billion stadium that was both too big and too expensive for the city, is a vanguard of what that future may look like. Cities will need to be more open, more realistic, and less unilateral in how they decide to spend money on these events.


It’s been tough going for Tokyo, but the long years of controversy seem like they could end up being a good thing for cities all over the world.


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I’m pretty sure that the point, for most countries who “win” the “privilege” of hosting the Olympics, to building brand-new multi-billion dollar facilities isn’t because they need the facilities; the point is all of the graft and kickbacks that the construction enables. The higher the total cost, the more money can be siphoned.