Zaha Hadid says Tokyo stadium criticism
is "embarrassing" for Japanese architects


Zaha Hadid, photo by Simone Cecchetti

News: Zaha Hadid has hit back at the Japanese architects criticising her Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium design, describing them as "hypocrites".

"I think it's embarrassing for them, that's all I can say," Hadid told Dezeen. "I understand it's their town. But they're hypocrites."

London-based architect Hadid was selected to design the 80,000-seat Japan National Stadium in 2012, following a restricted-entry international competition judged by a panel that included Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

In October last year, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki organised a symposium for Japanese designers including Toyo Ito and Kengo Kuma to protest against the size of the design in relation to its surroundings in Yoyogi Park – alongside Kenzo Tange's iconic 1964 Olympic stadium.

Fresh criticism has since come from Arata Isozaki, who said the stadium will be "a disgrace to future generations" last month following a redesign of the scheme.

"They don't want a foreigner to build in Tokyo for a national stadium," said Hadid, who also designed the Aquatics Centre for the 2012 games in London. "On the other hand, they all have work abroad. Whether it's Sejima, Toyo Ito, or Maki or Isozaki or Kengo Kuma."

Zaha Hadid's modified Tokyo Olympic stadium design
Zaha Hadid's modified Tokyo Olympic stadium design

A number of Japanese architects were among the 11 finalists in the competition to design the stadium, including Toyo Ito, SANAA with Nikken SekkeiAzusa Sekkei, and Mitsuru Man Senda and Environment Design Institute.

"The fact that they lost is their problem, they lost the competition," said Hadid. "If they are against the idea of doing a stadium on that site, I don't think they should have entered the competition."

Speaking to Dezeen at the ground-breaking of her 1000 Museum skyscraper in Miami on Friday, Hadid said that she was saddened by the comments from her fellow professionals.

"Many of them were friends of mine, actually the ones which I supported before like Toyo Ito, who I worked with on a project in London. I've known him for a long time."

"It saddens me," said Hadid. "What can I do? They're going ahead with it irrespective. So..."

dezeen_Japan National Stadium Zaha Hadid Tokyo 2020_1sq
Hadid's original Japan National Stadium design

The stadium is set to become the main venue for Tokyo's successful 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games bid, and is due for completion in 2019, when it is scheduled to host games during the Rugby World Cup.

Zaha Hadid Architects confirmed that the design had been revised following budget changes and the ongoing criticism – including a 500-person street protest – in July.

Hadid has also designed a stadium for the controversial Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. The architect dismissed comparisons of the design to a vagina as "ridiculous", and filed a lawsuit against the writer of a book review that claimed Hadid showed a lack of concern for worker conditions on the project.

  • TYO

    Her comments about why she feels people are against her proposal are wrong. There are so many reasons, least of which being that she is Japanese.

    She should listen to what people are saying, not just label them hypocrites because they are against her design.

    • guyinsf

      Are they against her design or against the fact that she’s not Japanese? I have a feeling that if a Japanese designer came up with the same design she did we wouldn’t see this kind of criticism.

      I’m not sure if there’s arrogance or not on her side, but there’s definitely jealousy on the side of those Japanese people who are doing the criticising.

      Japan is one of the MOST xenophobic cultures in the world and that trait is obviously at work here.

  • will

    Just constant egotism from both sides. How about a reasoned discussion?

  • OneDog

    Sounds like sour grapes to me. The judging panel has made its decision and you didn’t win, move on.

    • Tatsujiro Kurogane

      Doesn’t it sound like sour grapes from her as well, though? She designed a it, they made her redesign it, she came up with another POS and now we have this bike helmet on steroids hovering over one of the relatively few tranquil green spots in central Tokyo.

      • OneDog

        Not at all. She’s simply defending herself against unfair criticism from people who she used to class as friends. It sounds to me that your opinion is clouded by your own dislike of her design.

        • johnny

          Yes, you hit the nail on the head, people she classed as friends. Firstly, the fact that they were friends and willing to publicly come out against the design must mean that there is something wrong with the design.

          Secondly, the fact that she thinks that just because they are ‘friends’ means that they should keep quiet, rather than give a voice to a nation about to embark on a excessively expensive landmark, is sad.

          That in this elitist star-architect world, they should all cosy up to one another, otherwise she won’t pick them when she is on a judging panel for a competition they are entering. Good on them for having the integrity to speak their opinions.

          • yedon

            When you want to advise, admonish, or criticize a friend, you do not do in public, in the court of public opinion where they will be seen and possibly ridiculed by everyone. You approach them, have a one on one, and show them what is wrong.

            What the Japanese architects did, if they really were friends, is wrong in my opinion. And disclaimer by the way, I share the belief that Japanese are very xenophobic. Look it up, you might find out why.

            Second, she never said they should keep quiet (or point to me where she said so). She said they are hypocrites for not wanting her to build in their country when they themselves have built abroad. Attack that, not a made up statement.

            Third, regarding the design of the stadium, aside from judgement at a glance (yeah, looks like a bicycle helmet), how much do we actually know about it’s architecture?

            My only concern with this design would actually be in the form of the question: does this design address the issue of ghost building that plagues sports towns that where built up for special events?

    • It’s still crap, none of her buildings ever relate to where they are to be built.

      • OneDog

        Who said all buildings must relate to their surroundings. If this was the case we would have very boring architecture. I’d rather see architects and engineers push the boundaries and be different.

        • And I agree, I didn’t say they all had to. Hadid just seems to recycle the same tired style wherever the project is. For a national stadium I would like to see a more considered approach, rather than ‘here is a bunch of curves, now which country is it going and what is it for’.

          Granted, some of her projects may have pushed the boundaries but now, to me, (and many others it seems) it is just boring.

        • Aster

          I say so. See my comment above.

      • Paul

        You are right in that it doesn’t relate to where it would be built, should it happen, but as Tatsujiro Turogane stated in a response above, “we have this bike helmet on steroids hovering over one of the relatively few tranquil green spots in central Tokyo.”

        Okay, it looks like a bike helmet, and that in some respects relates to the Olympics in that there are the cycling competitions, and this will be an Olympic venue.

        But the way I see it is that it looks futuristic, and Japan, with it’s technology research, is all about the future.

  • an100pan .

    She doesn’t understand what the stadium will cause.
    I am a Japanese student. I have been living in Tokyo for 17 years and was looking forward to her plan. But I think her plan will only leave a massive junk for Tokyo.

    The stadium is newfangled and inharmonious for the landscape of Tokyo. The unique but uselessly huge structure will make Tokyo the most boring city in the world.

    • 200

      Hi, I am also a Japanese student, and I have been living in Tokyo for 18 years. I’m still looking forward to her stadium, and I think it will be a truly unique and beautiful piece of architecture for Tokyo.

      The stadium is harmonious with the eclectic urban fabric of Tokyo. This beautiful structure will make Tokyo the best city in the world, and Toyo Ito and other sore losers should just accept that Zaha beat them in a fair competition.

      • Lucas Yoshinaga

        Now waiting for the 19-year-Tokyo architecture student and resident to comment.

      • HintOfBrain

        Japan has a high standard for architecture, if not the highest. What non-Japanese don’t understand is that the bigger the project, the easier it is to fall into the mode of trying to make an icon, an easily identifiable marker for others to anchor their eyes on, and thus “like”.

        Japan is all about making the most out of small spaces, and making each space count for human scale. This is not easy to see when viewing models or aerial photos. This is one of the many reasons which makes Japanese architecture so consistent and so good.

        Hadid does not understand this and has fallen into the trap that believing her work is high quality because it’s easy to identify, and has managed to produce an icon, a very bland and uninteresting one at that.

        Granted, it’s a very large structure containing a large empty space, but so much better could be done with the program. The judges, I believe, had in mind a building Westerns can relate to and thus make the event associated with the arena more media-friendly. Tokyo has done very well avoiding “signature” buildings.

    • plakke

      So you are saying that the original National Stadium relates to the context of Jingu Gaien et al? And we should not have any problem with that?

      If we want to argue to not overpower the surrounding context, the original National Stadium itself was out of context. All Zaha or Sanaa or whatever proposals would’ve been out of context anyway.

      Many pieces of architecture built in Tokyo, whether at Omotesando or Roppongi or Shinjuku, is out of context, not only in terms of scale factor, material and proportion for other examples in many levels, but that’s what makes chaotic Tokyo very exciting!

    • TomokoHasegawa

      Tokyo is one of the ugliest cities in the world, so it would have been a good fit.

  • silicon m

    Hadid won the competition. Let her build the thing. WTF. Spoilsports or what. Sure there are issues, but you can’t tell me that Maki, Ito, Isozaki and Kuma amongst other Japanese architects haven’t had controversial buildings with issues from academics, other architects, the public, environmentalists etc… Like Hadid, it saddens me too. Show her some support.

  • arielnano

    There are too many snobs in the profession for so much drama. *Grabs popcorn*. I love Zaha, and Toyo Ito, etc. but they’re sounding like children right now.

    Is this Entertainment Tonight? Having said that, Zaha’s not particularly well known for solving issues:

  • Guest

    Intentional or not, the resemblance to the fossilised remains of Gamera, the giant mutant flying turtle rival to Godzilla, is hard to deny.

  • Tommy

    I agree with Zaha Hadid. Japanese architects just do what they want abroad and now blame her just because she designed a stadium in Tokyo.

    The city is entirely made of skyscrapers, weird buildings and even an Eiffel Tower in red and white. What’s the point of criticising just her stadium?

    • HintOfBrain

      Considering the vast urban fabric that is Tokyo, there are really very few skyscrapers in the city. What are *you* talking about? And Japanese “weird” possesses so much more cultural cachet than say, some other “weird” standard.

  • pipo

    As I have understood it, a large part of the criticism is directed towards the parameters set in the competition, not against Zaha Hadid as an architect.

    Hadid shouldn’t have dismissed the controversy around the stadium, which has been discussed seriously and thoroughly, in such a childish way.

  • Eddie Sampaio

    I really don’t understand why this bug-shaped piece of architecture proposed by this architect is so famous. I simply hate everything she does.

  • SKMT/坂本英樹

    In fact, the original Zaha design was not able to be built because it was dull and ugly. The revised design is useless because it’s very expensive and not able to grow grass due to the shadow of the roof. Project leader Tadao Ando is being cowardly and has never responded to critics.


    What a bullsh*t! Really! Whether Hadid, Foujimoto or others… You are giving the whole thing of architecture such a wrong direction! It’s the direction of old reactionary star-architects fighting one another. You don’t make the thing evolve at all! Poor you!

  • l’oncleb

    It’s so funny how, in the 1950s, this sort of extravaganza building project would have been greeted with awe and a sense of optimism – some sort of embodiment of a bold future we were all keen to embrace.

    It’s the sort of optimism that Saarinen’s TWA Terminal in NYC and the romance with flying and space commandeered. It gave wings to everyone’s dreams and imagination in the way the Apollo moon landings might have. But that was 60 years ago, and perceptions are much more jaded and people are less enthralled by the spectacle of an alien object in an urban context.

    Nor, it seems, are people quite as willing to subscribe to the hype and romance this sort of endeavour tries to sell. We’ve seen the derelict ruins of similar projects, follies and schemes – the embodiments of the future time has eaten and eroded.

    Architectural arrogance and sour grapes aside, the general mood of today seems to be far more willing to endorse something more modest and subtle than this sort of flailing whale of a stadium.

    Having said that, it does seem as though the debate about aesthetics and context are a mere window dressing for the power struggles of who might be allowed to be the stadium’s author.

  • Alun

    If I read the first of her comments correctly, she is not really accusing them of hypocrisy but of racism. That is an all together more serious accusation. Best to put it down to clumsiness on her part, right?

  • papou

    The Sanaa proposal was great…

  • Marco DG

    Go Zaha go! Well done! Chapeau.

  • Greg

    It looks like a Nike flyknit-designed building.

  • ips

    What’s really disgraceful about this joke of a proposal, is that it actually won a competition.

  • But it’s not in Yoyogi Park. It’s in Meiji Jingu Gaien, where the current National Stadium is. And there are plenty of trees in Tokyo, by the way.

    • guest

      Tange’s Olympic stadium was still in Yoyogi Park when I looked at it from my hotel window a short while ago. Did they move it one night?

      As for there being “plenty of trees in Tokyo, by the way”, I’m always amazed at how many wide, tree-lined boulevards there are. Let’s face it, there’s so much space for them. Duh…

  • I don’t think their criticism is based on her being the architect, or for not being Japanese. The stadium design just does not fit the context of the location.

  • jhort

    Looks like a bike helmet. Hadid is a 10-year flash in the pan who has either run out of ideas or lost the young architects who perhaps designed her limited successful past projects. Her response is immature at best. Another bad design was the stadium in Qatar, so must be a trend.

    • Tatsujiro Kurogane

      Dude, you stole my line. A bike helmet; great one. She seems to struggle with the English language as badly as she does with design. There’s nothing embarrassing about calling a big POS a big POS.

  • archigrad

    At least it’s not ‘bartletecture’.

  • Paul

    And another great piece of Tokyo architectural history will be demolished – like Marubiru and in a few weeks, The Okura. This monstrosity stadium should be built in a different location. The Olympics now seems to just destroy cities.

  • Guest 1

    He said, she said, she isn’t, he isn’t, she did this, he did that… Haha! A pointless loop of digression. I believe we should rather be concerned why in this day and age we are building big stadiums, and for it to be an ‘icon’. Have a competition for how we can preserve Tokyo’s ecosystem for goodness sake. Yes, I went there. Haha.

  • Jared Potzinski

    “Who should be the architect? My hope is to have a Japanese team.”

    Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, writing in JIA magazine Tokyo, August 2013 (nine months after Hadid was awarded the project).

  • guest

    But weren’t we only ever talking about the Tange icon, the gymnasium, the one in Yoyogi Park, the one that the proposed structure will diminish? Goodness me. Can you wonder there’s so little international understanding these days.

  • Lucas Yoshinaga

    I really don´t want to criticise the opinions of both sides – who am I to say Kuma, Zaha or Ando are wrong? What we can analyse is the relevance of an architectural competition, since this one has been a
    huge failure.

    I really think we are missing one important point. After the conclusion of an architectural competition, is it okay to intervene so dramatically in the final result?

    They held the competition with Japanese architects in the jury and among the participants. Zaha won and now they don’t want it? Or every jury must be composed by numerous people? Why hold a competition in the first place? It is not a Miss Universe competition, which is held every year. It’s a cultural legacy we are talking about!

    As for the debate itself, as one guy said: they are handling it like kids! So much for the cultural elite.

    For those who want to get entangled in this battle of ego between the star architects, I think an architect Celebrity Deathmatch version is more appropriate.

    • Borz

      Exactly my thoughts!

  • guest

    Nathan, you are right. Unlike Dezeen, no mention of Yoyogi Park or Tange’s gymnasium in the Guardian’s piece, only that the new structure will rise 70m above the historic Meiji shrine, replacing the National Stadium, as you rightly say. My apologies.

    • To be fair, I missed that reference to Yoyogi Park in the article above. I can see where the confusion came from now. No idea why the architects were bringing that up given they’re completely different locations.

  • plakke

    The biggest problem in Japan is it’s still a male-dominated nation. The reality is that females are still not treated equally (Sejima is an exception because she’s Pritzker prize winner, Japanese love to praise people who have fame overseas).

    Foreigners are being treated differently and to extreme cases, racism still exists in Japan.

    For Zaha being both “foreigner” and “female”, it’s an easy target to blame on for gullible Japanese, instead of the committee and judges who organised the competition.

    Very sad for such progressive nation that embraced many foreign cultural influences.

    • pipo

      While that might all be true to a certain degree, it is an extreme over-simplification to think that the critique on the Hadid stadium has anything to do with what you describe above.

  • David

    Arrogant, overrated hypocrite yelling “hypocrites”.
    Can’t take any critics, not when it’s about her work and not when it’s about working ethics in the Middle East.

    No respect for anything, no respect for anybody. Just a big name, and 80% of her works are bad.

  • Paul

    The sports complex looks like something out of a sci-fi manga.

    Also, with all of the uproar about the Olympic Committee and their tactics of getting cities to spend money on sports facilities that have little post-Olympics return on investment, then maybe Japan should remodel the 1964 stadium instead of building brand new; putting the I.O.C. in their place.

  • bob

    Not everybody needs to win every time. Zaha, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You are an original and prolific creator. Not many architects can boast with your enormous portfolio (if any at all). You are number one in my books. Keep on doing what you’re doing!

  • studio

    Why argue about bike helmets or vagina stadia… There’s plenty of bad architecture to go around.

  • Victor Salas

    It is Japan’s loss not to put up such a great and unique design.

  • p.usa

    Is it possible to see what the other competitors did? I would like to be able to see where their criticism is coming from.

    Having said so, I personally think this has been the biggest mistake the city of Tokyo has made in choosing a design for their stadium. Bulky, not gracious at all in shapes, no different to a basic diagram for an stadium, no architectural improvement of any kind.

    I’m sorry, they may be hypocrites but she’s too full of herself and so arrogant. Being a little bit humbler would help her identify as things are not quite right in her design.

  • Borz

    It was a competition. If they thought her design was inappropriate, why choose her to win in the first place? She won fair and square so move on.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Am I the only one that is fed up with Hadid’s arrogance and singular response to all design problems?

  • LV

    Come on Zaha, everyone knows your work! And congratulations on that! Not on this one, I am afraid. You have to face it, it is disgusting and you would hate to pass by this monster everyday.

    Simple, admit it, just say: I am sorry Japanese people. I was not in good place when I designed this piece of architecture. And that is fine Zaha, even Ito, Fujimoto and Ando had their bad moments as well, but it’s their country, their city and they don’t wan’t your stadium.

    There you go, sh*t happens! Even inside your head, Zaha.

  • MP

    Zaha Hadid’s response is ungracious at best, and by attacking the motives of the critics she doesn’t answer the central question of whether the design is appropriate or not.

  • Peter

    Anyone criticizing the design because it is not harmonious with it’s surroundings is delusional. Name one structure in Tokyo that’s in harmony with anything.

    Her design was chosen by, wait a second, Japanese people. Surely Japanese must know something about Japanese harmony.

  • blobface

    You don’t like my work? You’re a xenophobic misogynist! Crying out loud, how about it’s because they don’t want something that looks like a dated science-fiction bike helmet to be in the centre of their city for decades to come?