Bye bye Zaha, hello fried egg! New designs unveiled for Tokyo Olympic stadium

Zaha Hadids Tokyo 2020 stadium was declared their own nationals joke then scrapped. Now, its proposed replacements have been exposed and they look like an egg and a stack of saucers

It was compared to everything from a bike helmet to a potty, and allowed to spiraling to nearly double its budget, before being unceremoniously scrapped and proclaimed their own nationals shame. Zaha Hadids futuristic design for Tokyos 2020 Olympic stadium would have swaggered through the historic Meiji Park like a glossy white stormtrooper, violating local house codes and leaving the city with a costly white elephant. But are the alternative proposals, finally unveiled this week, any better?

After Hadids heady vision, the two new designs might seem a bit bargain-basement. One looks like an undercooked fried egg a wobbly white roof with a gelatinous, albumeny middle. The other looks like a pile of salad plates cleared away before anyone had finished, with bits of lettuce poking out from between the stack of saucers.

But both are significantly slimmer and cheaper than Hadids design around 153 bn yen( APS8 35 m ), as opposed to 252 bn yen( APS1. 3bn) and they appear to be models of a lighter-weight, low-key approach that would fit better with the parkland defining. Anonymously released as Design A and Design B, but believed to be the work of celebrated Japanese designers Kengo Kuma and Toyo Ito, both are titled Stadium in a Forest and build prominent use of wooden building, in contrast to Hadids hefty steel arches.

Design A a stack of salad plates? Illustration: Japan Sports Council

Scheme A( which looks like the work of Kuma to me) has a roof supported by a dense lattice of exposed timber trusses. If well-detailed it could be a magnificent thing, forming a cats cradle of interlocking rays above spectators heads and recollecting the intricate intricacy of Japanese joinery. It would be a first for any contemporary stadium, which usually rely on steel and stretchy skins of PVC and ETFE, and a welcome nod to the countrys build traditions.

From outside, its seat terraces look like slender piles of plates, supported on rings of raked columns with the air of a traditional Japanese temple, while the whole thing is garnished with greenery. Its too early to tell whether it will be token sprigs or full-sized trees( as some views suggest ), but it could enable the park to reclaim the structure after the Olympics, engulfing it with greenery.

Scheme B looks more like it was born on Planet Ito. It has the Pritzker prize-winning architects trademark amoebic geometries, with an undulating white steel roof that ripples over the seating bowl, like a toned-down version of SANAAs entry to the original stadium competitor. A colonnade of majestic lumber columns march around the perimeter, supporting the roof that flares out like a peaked sailors cap. The whole thing is proposed to be sheathed in a full-height skin of glass, bringing all the usual metaphors of transparency and reflection, and allowing the structure to dissolve into the park.

Design B a sailors hat? Illustration: Japan Sports Council

Whether covering a stadium in plants or glass offers more potential for it to disappear is debatable and perhaps irrelevant, given that any Olympic stadium will be very visible indeed , no matter what rhetorical flourishes the architects try and achieve. Design B could be ethereal, or it could look like a lumpen IMAX cinema. Design A could be a wondrous wooden tree-house, or a half-baked idea disguised with garden trellis.

Local reaction has been lukewarm so far. Both designs have a mundane appearance, Yasuhiro Kimura, a 34 -year-old out jogging near the construction site on Monday, told the Japan Times. I cant tell one from the other. They dont have the characteristics particular to Tokyo, added 16 -year-old Akihiro Mori, a high school baseball player, in a disapproving tone.

Such reactions hit on the eternal existential nub of any Olympic stadium design: people expect them to be dazzlingly iconic, the pride of the nation capable of seducing the global TV audience at the opening yet they also insist they must be built at a cut-price cost with as little impact on the context as is practicable. The two rarely go hand in hand.

Intergalactic bike helmet Zaha Hadids cancelled stadium design. Illustration: Uncredited/ Japan Sports Council

Both Kuma and Ito are eminently capable. They understand the Tokyo context and they both signed the petition to halt Hadids plan, giving the most recent competition an unfortunate backstabbing air. When Hadids scheme was first unveiled, it was met with a scald assault from the Japanese architectural community. Arata Isozaki, designer of Barcelonas Olympic stadium, described Hadids project as a monumental mistake and alerted it would be a dishonor to future generations. In a lengthy open letter to the Japan Sports Council, the government body in charge of plans for the 2020 games, he railed against the distorted process that had led to a dull, slow sort, like a turtle waiting for Japan to sink so that it can swim away.

Ito was more measured in his criticism, choosing to softly work up an alternative proposal that would have incorporated the original 1964 Olympic stadium, a 54,000 -capacity venue already on the site. He argued it could be upgraded and reused, just as successful refurbishments had been made to the Olympiastadion in Berlin, host of the 1936 Game, and to the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Olympic host in 1932 and 1984. His alternative could have been the best option of all if the structure hadnt already been reduced to a pile of rubble.

Cats cradle of timber Design A features a lattice roof of uncovered wooden trusses. Illustration: Japan Sport Council/ AFP/ Getty Images

As for Hadid, her practice is bitterly disillusioned at the style they have been treated. They had always maintained that the spiral expenses were an expression of the results of rising construction costs in Tokyo , not their design.

It is an unfortunate fact that the government did not even consider working with the existing design team to build on the two years of design work they and the Japanese people had invested, told a spokesman for the practice. The rules of entry to the new rivalry limited the existing design squad, as well as many other Japanese and international designers and contractors that wished to take part, from entering. There are now serious dangers of a rushed process, with no certainty on the likely construction costs of the stadium, and that it may not be ready in time or deliver a significant sporting legacy without expensive conversion after the 2020 Games.

The hazards are real, and the whole process has been a sorry but familiar saga. Originally intended to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the new stadium now wont be ready in time. But, whichever option they select, Im looking forward to seeing what could be the first wooden Olympic stadium in history. As long as they go easy on the fireworks.

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