This week, architecture firm Zaha Hadid’s proposed design for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium was scrapped by the Japanese government, after criticism was levelled at both the overall attractiveness of the design and the soaring construction costs involved. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has now outlined plans to launch a competition for a new stadium design with the specific aim of ensuring a complete rethink. But with time running out according to Zaha Hadid, so are Abe and co making a big mistake scrapping plans for what we at Redwood have lovingly nicknamed ‘the UFO’?
The common title used to describe the Olympic Games in modern times, is the ‘greatest show on earth’. Whilst that’s surely up for debate (the world squirrel surfing championships might have thing or two to say in objection), the Games is certainly one of the most watched and popular sporting events on the planet, and that, in short, puts immense pressure on any host nation to deliver something bigger and better than whatever has gone before.
Nowhere is that pressure felt more acutely than with the design of the track and field stadium – the heart of the Olympic Games. Unlike any other facet of the event (including the consistently mad mascot designs), the stadium tells the world what it can expect from the latest rendition of the games and the host nation itself. For two weeks the world and its media are housed in one building, and one building alone upon which that country will be judged – rightly or wrongly.
The design of the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the bird’s nest, was widely praised in 2008 for showcasing modern, progressive China in conjunction with the country’s rich history – the original inspiration was actually from a combination of historical Chinese art forms – the crackle glazed pottery that is local to Beijing, and the heavily veined Chinese scholar stones. The Queen Elizabeth II stadium in Stratford was also credited for representing the best of British. An elegant, classical design, with quirky features such as the triangular lighting booms that rose over the stadium, the venue was the perfect theatre for London’s tongue in cheek opening ceremony, in addition to the more serious matter of the competition being held inside.
So what of the UFO? One has to say that is has all the ingredients to be another iconic Olympic venue. It certainly alludes to Japan’s reputation as one of the most ‘futuristic’ countries on earth, whilst Zaha Hadid also argues that its simple symmetry is a celebration of a famously orderly and efficient country. Clearly, however, Mr Abe has different views and for now it’s back to the drawing board for the home of Tokyo 2020.
Only time will tell whether the Prime Minister will be vindicated in his decision to scrap the UFO. Either way, the Japanese government clearly view the next five years as a meticulously designed marathon, not an Olympic sprint.