Japan scraps Zaha Hadid's Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium

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Zaha Hadid's controversial plans for the 2020 Olympic Stadium in Tokyo have been scrapped.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has announced that the design of the stadium will be started again from scratch due to spiralling costs, according to the Guardian.

"We have decided to go back to the start on the Tokyo Olympics-Paralympics stadium plan, and start over from zero," Abe told reporters. "I have been listening to the voices of the people for about a month now, thinking about the possibility of a review."

Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) also released a statement confirming the news that the plans are being reviewed:

"Our teams in Japan and the UK have been working hard with the Japan Sports Council to design a new National Stadium that would be ready to host the Rugby World Cup in 2019, the Tokyo 2020 Games and meet the need for a new home for Japanese sport for the next 50 to 100 years."

"It is absolutely right that the benefits and costs of the new National Stadium should be clearly and accurately communicated and understood by the public and decision-makers in Japan and we hope that this is one of the objectives of the review announced by the prime minister."

The estimated cost of the London-based firm's Japan National Stadium rose to £1.3 billion last year.

"The construction cost had been greatly inflated and there were criticisms from the public including the athletes on the plan," said Abe. "This made me believe that we'll not be able to host a game that everyone in this country will celebrate."

Zaha Hadid Architects revised the design of the stadium in 2014 following a budget cut
Zaha Hadid Architects revised the design of the stadium in 2014 following a budget cut

"It is not the case that the recently reported cost increases are due to the design, which uses standard materials and techniques well within the capability of Japanese contractors and meets the budget set by the Japan Sports Council," said ZHA's statement.

"The real challenge for the stadium has been agreeing an acceptable construction cost against the backdrop of steep annual increases in construction costs in Tokyo and a fixed deadline."

The design has received heavy criticism from high-profile Japanese architects including Toyo Ito, Sou Fujimoto, Kengo Kuma and Fumihiko Maki, who launched a petition for the project to be scrapped due to its scale.

Hadid hit back at the criticism in an interview with Dezeen in December, describing the architects as "hypocrites" and the situation as "embarrassing" for them.



"They don't want a foreigner to build in Tokyo for a national stadium," she told Dezeen. "On the other hand, they all have work abroad."

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

The design for the stadium was revised in July 2014 following budget changes and ongoing criticism – including a 500-person street protest.

Arhcitect Arata Isozaki branded the redesign "a monumental mistake" that left him "in despair" after the new images were released.

ZHA director Patrick Schumacher responded to today's news on his Facebook page. "Maki and Ito will be remembered for this," he wrote.

Japan National Stadium for Tokyo 2020 Olympics by Zaha Hadid
Zaha Hadid's original design for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium

The firm was announced as the winner of the competition to design the 80,000-seat Japan National Stadium in 2008, before Tokyo was named as the host city for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games.

Abe said that the 2019 Rugby World Cup matches also scheduled to be held at the venue, including the opening match and the final, will no longer take place there.

ZHA designed the Aquatics Centre for London's Olympic Games in 2012, and is also creating a stadium for the 2022 football world cup in Qatar.

"We have used our experience on major sports and cultural projects, including the hugely successful London 2012 Games and legacy, to design a stadium that can be built cost-effectively and still deliver the flexible and robust National Stadium that the Japan Sports Council requires," said the firm's statement.

  • dan

    A massive dodge of an even bigger bullet, well done Japan.

  • Chris MacDonald

    I think the overall form of her first attempt was far better than the “squashed” second version, but ultimately neither were particularly beautiful or suitable for the site. Odd, given the enormous success of her aquatic park in London, which actually is beautiful.

    • Miles Bader

      Yeah, I’ve seen some of her other stuff (particularly older projects) that was really nice, but this seems like it was done on autopilot, it seems sort of generic and does not fit the intended location in the least.

      I’ve been to the site in Tokyo, and it’s actually a rather pleasant place, which is helped by the fact that the existing stadium from the 1964 olympics is rather low-key.

      Hadid’s proposed stadium on the other hand is massive and would clearly dominate the area. Personally I’d prefer something much less domineering, but if a bigger stadium is something required by modern sports realities, it should at least fit its surroundings gracefully.

      Even in the renderings and drawings – which are supposed to make everything look good! – it just looks awkward and out of place.

      But shame on the Japanese Olympic committee as well for choosing it in the first place… what were they thinking?!

  • vincentius

    The London stadium by Populous cost £486M ($760M); construction of Hadid’s design is estimated to be ¥252M ($2.05B). Hadid is blaming labour costs while analysts blame the extravagant retractable roof.

    • FBuildung

      ¥2520M.

    • M.L.

      All politics aside, this is of course the real reason the plan got cancelled. $2billion is a completely unreasonable budget for a stadium. It’s 2.5 times London, or beating the current world’s most expensive stadium by almost half a billion. That’s beyond absurd. I don’t see how anyone could have justified that.

  • I didn’t hate the original concept, but it was never appropriate in the context of it’s location at Meijijingu Gaien. A complete rethink is a much better course of action than the compromised revision, although the decision should have probably been made earlier.

  • parach

    I just don’t get it, aren’t architects paying attention? Why does it always have to be grandiose and ‘spectacular’? Kudos to Japan on scrapping this ‘giant turtle’.

    I was surprised when she won, given that this is a country that is very particular about its cultural image. You have an abundance of world-class architects who fully understand the local context… Use them!

  • polodog

    Whether you love or hate Zaha’s proposal is not the issue, she won the competition fair and straight. The closed-mindedness of Japanese architects and politicians of Abe-regime really ruined everything. Also, you the political nature of this issue is even deeper than you may think here in Japan.

    • Neek

      Hadid’s proposal is absolutely part of the issue, and I’d like to think that a different scheme, something innovative for an urban stadium (perhaps more subtle as well, but that’s a different conversation) would have trumped the conservative opinion that a local architect should have won the competition.

      The public outcry against the scheme happened for a reason, and it wasn’t (only) because her passport is missing kanji.

    • Joshua Brown

      Abe’s decision was the correct one, this country is still smarting over the waste from building stadiums for the Japan/Korea world cup.

      I think the political class in Japan has finally woken up to the fact that you can’t keep throwing money at huge non-economic projects if you have a shrinking population and an economy that has just started to come back from the dead.

  • Etienne

    Considering terms of the competition, is there any chance for other finalists to realise their project? I remember that the project of Dorell.Ghotmeh.Tane / Architects with A+Architecture was quite impressive and far from the current controversial situation.

  • doobius

    Oh well, Japan really embarrassed themselves. Threw the sh*t at the fan and it hit back at them.

    • cho cho

      Really, the whole country embarrassed itself? Even the potato farmers in Hokkaido?

      • k derrah

        Especially them.

  • gambarimasho

    1964 Olympics for Japan has previously been symbolisation of the new beginning, a nation with new goals after defeat in WWII. After that Olympics, Japan rose as the world’s leading manufacturer and innovator.

    Recently, and for a few previous decades, there are many problems in Japan; economic stagnation, ageing population, conservatism to name a few.

    Conservatism is the hardest problem to overcome. This country is very private, not much news, especially negative ones leak out to the world. It is a nationalistic country – that is not surprising with about 5% of foreigners living in Japan. You can never become a Japanese citizen unless you are born in Japan.

    Japan knows its problems and that is why they bid on the 2020 Olympics. Choosing a foreigner to build its national stadium was a great gesture, never mind the design (design itself does not matter in this politically charged controversy). After all, conservatism and the old ways won the battle. Unfortunately Japan will not rise to new challenges and new ways.

    • Neek

      You may be right about the conservative nature of Japanese politics and culture, but the design does matter. It’s too easy to point the finger and justify the design by saying the conservatives blocked it because Hadid isn’t Japanese.

      There has been no mention yet of who or what will replace this scheme, but you’re default assumption is that it will be a local architect, which I will admit is fair. However, I don’t find much strength in the argument that the design isn’t the issue, or that it had nothing to do with this decision.

      • gambarimasho

        I hope that you are right and architecture still has the power through design and everything else we thought to believe in school.

        However, Zaha Hadid’s proposal was a direct response to the competition brief, the scale of project determined by organizers as well as the site.

        Organizing a competition always comes with the risk of large budgets as competitors are trying to outdo each other to get noticed. Competitions are another waste of resources, perfect to fit the Olympics as it is now.

        By cancelling Zaha’s design, Japan shows that competition results hold no merit unless it fits someone’s idea. Why did the invite jury then? Let Abe, Ito, and Maki and other unhappies to be judges then.

        I personally think that Olympics is a huge waste of money and very unsustainable. This Olympic stadium at least shows the situation as it is.

        Perhaps, Tange Stadium was an eyesore for some at the time, but now it is one of the most visited sites in Tokyo.

        • Frank

          Zaha’s design did NOT meet the requirements of the competition brief. The brief set a budget of 130 billion yen. Her design was estimated at 300 billion yen, even in the preliminary design stages.

          Likewise, it turns out that the foundations of the huge arches would have rammed through the subway tracks outside the project site, so it seems she never really thought out the executability of her design.

          So why was it chosen as the winner? You’d have to ask Tadao Ando, the selection committee chairman, who is another designer known for sculptural masterpieces that are hell to live in (like requiring you to use an umbrella to go the loo from your bedroom in the middle of driving rain because he wanted to create the effect of a courtyard between the bedroom and the toilet).

          • cho cho

            I agree with most of your points but the Ando project you referenced was one of his first, probably 40 years ago, it was tiny, and frankly it made him famous. I doubt any of his super high end clients of the last, say 30 years need to go outside and back in to the loo.

          • Neek

            Ando’s Azuma House was based on a traditional Japanese townhouse style called machiya, which often incorporated a small courtyard as they were typically long and narrow.

        • Neek

          I agree with the Olympics as being a resource drain, especially in Tokyo amidst the current environmental disaster at Fukushima. But that’s a different conversation. And sure, I could be naive to the real story here. Fair enough.

          The requested scale of the project is large, yes. But looking back at some of the other shortlist proposals, namely the scheme by gmp Architekten and perhaps SANAA’s scheme found ways to lessen the impact of such a large program.

          I’m not sure whether or not the stadium is an eyesore is the point. It’s hard for me to imagine Tange’s stadium as such, and it’s visited so much because it’s still in use. Tange’s plan fits the site perfectly and is accessible to the city. It pushed the limits of contemporary construction at the time, while maintaining buildability. It’s one of the few sporting arenas to exhibit national architectural identity, and perhaps the only example of an Olympic stadium with this much continued use. It’s also a much smaller building, so this is a forced comparison.

          Also, I do feel for the architects involved with this project. Cancelling a project after two years of work must be hard to take. I wish them much better luck with their future efforts.

    • ryutaro

      Actually, to be correct non-Japanese “gaijin” can be a naturalised citizen. But that’s not the point here I want to say.

      This problem has grown out of proportion, beyond architectural discussion, in Japan and has become a great political disaster. A lot of covering up each others’ ass and Abe trying to keep his job by making all the Japanese CEO’s happy and rich.

      • maido

        Hurray, there is still hope for Japan in the power of foreigners!

    • a

      I agree with everything you said. The issue is not the design, Japan has architects that venture into similar organic designs. The problem is that they choose a foreigner to to build a very important, iconic and monumental piece of architecture over a Japanese architect.

  • KeepForeignArchitectsOut

    Yes, because foreign architects should not be allowed to build in other counties. Bleedin’ foreigners stealin’ our jobs! Well done!

    • herp derperson
    • Architect

      The problem is not about foreigners building in other countries. They can build freely. But when it comes to an Olympic stadium, a building with so much historic and cultural importance, I must agree that the event organisers should have seen this sh*tstorm coming from kilometers away. Especially with the Japanese people, who are a super closed-minded, narrow thinking, conservative society.

      With that said I think it is both sad and pathetic for the Japanese people and for the architects that put their name on this mess against the building. It puts Japan in a shameful spot.

  • rrrrich

    Good. If we all stop encouraging her she might go away.

  • Concerned Citizen

    I wonder why it languished so long before Japan came to its senses.

  • Cheuk-Yin To

    A real-life Stoddard temple.

  • Hakan

    Japan has amazing talent. They definitely do not need an ‘egoistchitect’!

  • vincentius

    Smart stadium design considers how the structure remains a public benefit, if at all, after the games are over.

  • I am glad Japan came to sense. I hope the rest of the world will follow.

  • thehuntedfew

    Did she not just skimp on the design, and mapped her bike helmet in 3D Max?

    • blobface

      *Rhino.

  • Guest

    Oh Japan, you’ve restored my faith in you.

  • Yoshi Hayashi

    Well done Japan. Thank god architects still have a say in the way our cities are shaped.

  • turtlehead

    This whole Olympics for Tokyo scheme was the way to restore the faith of the Japanese citizens and the general public after the 3.11 tsunami.

    The corruptions that went behind them, by the corporate executives and the politicians was a huge stab that the government need to recover from.

    So when Hadid proposal was one of the final selections, it was the obvious choice that her proposal was providing that emotional enthusiasm and optimism for Japan.

    Japan was just not in the mind rightset and smart enough then, when they chose Hadid

  • Steve Blind

    Thank goodness. The bike helmet would have ruined Tokyo’s skyline.

    Democracy wins over bad architecture for circuses.

    • David

      Really? There are entire neighbourhoods in Tokyo filled with developer precast concrete boxes about 30 stories high and you’re worried ZHA’s stadium that responded to the scale of the brief was the issue?

      The real problem is the poor location of the site in the first place. That part of Tokyo would be better off without any stadium.

  • Cam

    It’s a great day for Japan.

  • Catherine Barber

    To me Zaha’s jobbie resembles a deformed and fancified computer mouse.

    I’m amazed that such a culturally conservative country as Japan ever, in the first place, countenanced what would have been such an alien invasion.

    • bean

      Exactly for this reason, as Japan is culturally and politically conservative.

  • Wen Hui Lim

    Maybe it’s time to bring Zaha Hadid to Singapore.

    • spadestick

      She already has projects in Singapore.

  • Will Mac

    A very dishonest way to go about things by the Japanese, for it was employing ZHA that brought the Olympics to Japan.

    Totally political and not to do with money. They will now have to pay two architects and much else on top. It will be a compromised result.

  • Frank

    What is “embarassing” is that Hadid has decided to pull the “discrimination against my race” card to defend against criticisms of her design, instead of espousing the design’s merits. Her accusations of hypocrisy are likewise ridiculous, because none of the architects who are criticizing the design (except for Toyo Ito) took part in the competition. Only Tadao Ando, who headed the competition selection committee, favored the design, and Ando is well-known for bulldozing his opinions over everyone else’s (seriously, how many modern architects are boorish enough to slap the construction foreman in front of everyone’s view at the job site, just because some gap between door leaves was wider than he thought was proper?).

    Hadid goes on to say that they would “use their experience on major sports projects … like the London Olympics … to design a stadium that can be built cost-effectively…). Is she kidding? WHAT cost-effective? Her London Aquatics Center was THREE times over original budget, and cost 269M pounds, compared to 486M pounds for the main Olympic stadium that was several times larger in size! And this was built in London, where she is based!

    Hadid’s design should have been disqualified from the start, since it never could have been built at the stated budget. The competition budgeted a cost of 130 billion yen. The initial estimates for her design came in at 300 billion yen. She then watered down her design by removing the surrounding promenades (which is why it now looks like anything from a turtle to a toilet seat to a Roomba, depending on the viewer’s imagination), and it was still 252 billion yen. The costs are likely to rise through construction – like they did in Hadid’s museum in Seoul, when she started getting picky about materials and construction methods.

    Even just a quick computation shows how bad it can get: The London pool cost 52B yen and has 2500 permanent seats (plus 15,000 temporary seats that were removed after the Games). The Tokyo stadium will have 65,000 seats, plus 15,000 temporary seats. Even assuming that prices aren’t going to rise in the 8 years between London and Tokyo, and that costs are similar in both countries, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that Tokyo price tag can end up 10 times more at 500 billion yen.

    Hadid should just accept the fact that her ultimate clients, the Japanese taxpayers, have spoken. They have decided that while they want to host a good Olympic Games, they’re not going to mortgage their grandchildren’s future just so that she can realize her architectural fantasies. After all, she didn’t get known as the queen of unbuildable designs for nothing.

    • ganko gaijin

      If Japan really cared about money they would not host Olympics at all and instead would invest this money into rebuilding Tohoku after the disaster and deal with Fukushima.

      She is not very off about foreigners discrimination and women as well. These issues exist in Japan and I know it because I live in Japan as a foreigner.

      Political gaffes like “Let the foreigners come to Japan to take care of the older generation and we can put them all living together on an island separate from Japanese people”, don’t shock me anymore as I can care less about some old ignorant politicians.

      I believe in what Zaha says. I also like living in Japan even though I feel out of place many times.

    • mokarimakka

      Actually, if you see other proposals all of them will go over budget and will have the same problem. Except if SANAA or Ito got chosen, the Japanese will try to justify the over budget and will not cause such commotion as what’s happening now.

      In Japan, race does matter and on top of that being a woman in Japan really is a huge disadvantage.

  • JMFM

    Chuffed this dead turtle/bike helmet/vagina monstrosity isn’t being built, whatever the reason.

  • Apostrolypse

    Just build the Akira stadium already!

  • vgcamara

    Zaha fans should visit her buildings and then reconsider their comments. Beijing Galaxy Soho is one of the worst buildings I have ever been in. Yes, very photogenic, but useless space everywhere.

    You can really tell the structure was just an add-on after the final ‘volume’ was determined. Seems ‘firmitas, utilitas, venustas’ is a thing of the past. It’s good this has been scraped.

  • Aha!

    Just call a spade a spade. Japanese culture is xenophobic and insular, which is what gives it its unique, quirky, slightly frightening allure of cute backwardness.

  • jason

    It’s about time someone reined in these egotistical designs and put the people’s opinions first. Other countries and governments should take note of Japan’s decision to start over with this project.

    It’s time to put the want for ‘jewellery architecture’ that focuses on nothing more than a statement behind us, and get back on to quality in detail on a modest scale and encourage projects that don’t cost people their wellbeing by eating up government funds.

    Let’s make architects accountable for over-budget designs.

  • Tom Durer

    I wonder if they’ll go with a Japanese talent? And what effect on the next budget this loss will have?

  • Frank

    The true story behind the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIOGaOVulTM

  • Well, she won’t be eating sushi any more.

  • Brendan

    Brave and smart, for the Japanese government to accept this design was a mistake and the need to start again. It’s not about the nationality of the architect. Australia’s most iconic building was designed by a foreigner, to name but one of many examples.

    It’s about the fact this building was a monster, completely out of sympathy with the environment. Zaha Hadid has had many triumphs, but this was never going to be one of them. Looking forward to seeing the next round of ideas.

  • DK

    Dezeen posts too much about this issue.

  • Jean Chen

    While the original criticism may have had political motivations, the final decision to scrap the design is entirely democratic and financially motivated.

    Most Japanese people don’t blame or even care about Zaha, but it’s just too much of an economic burden on the taxpayers. The government was actually willing to push through no matter how much objection the design got, but Japan just can’t afford to pay for this thing.

    I love how people jump the ship blaming xenophobia and sexism when Japan’s economics has been stagnating for decades. If you love it so much, I’m sure if y’all can fund-raise one billion dollars for the cause, the design will push through all the “chauvinism” and political jazz to get built.

    But for now, can’t say I blame the Japanese people for not wanting to foot the bill, and no, a Japanese architect would not be able to get away with such an expensive stadium either. It may not be Zaha’s fault, but at the end of the day, there is a budget and the cost of this is just too ridiculous.

  • blobface

    I don’t necessarily think a national stadium has to be built by said nation’s designers, but Japanese have such amazing architects. It makes little sense to not use them and instead go for Zaha’s dated sci-fi masturbations that are almost always not in context with its environment unless you are a Cylon.

    • charles osawa

      I think the people wanted Chanel, and Zaha still means Chanel. Branding and what not is still prevalent in Japan. Intellectual choices are sometimes overruled by people’s demand on fantasy over reality, bureaucracy, budget control, stupidity and ignorance.

      That is then a social problem Japan carries. It’s good that maybe this awkward dark drama of the industry sparks people’s attention to question why, but if another stupidity follows, then I guess the nation is doomed. Personally, I’d like to see Ito’s architecture, but it’s not a bad thing to give jobs to foreigners.

  • blobface

    To put things in context, It’s 2-3x more expensive than London or Beijing’s stadiums. The resupply mission contract for the International Space Station between SpaceX and NASA for 12 runs was $1.6 billion, that’s 4/5 the cost of this stadium.

    What advance technologies, if it weren’t for the unnecessarily complex and debatably useless forms (that is either beautiful or disgusting depending on personal preference), does this stadium have that justifies such cost? Good job Japan.

  • charles osawa

    In the end, it’s the people’s money that gets spend, but the people never get to choose. The nation is bound to business: Olympics. Architects are bound to clients’ (selected individuals’) demand, desire, restraint and fantasy. The money is a big issue to all, as it disappears.

    People’s opinion can or never matters, because we would never know the real building until it gets built. Until then, disputes get personal, national, superficial and staged. Derailed from (probably) the real point here, we online readers throw our two cents to the table.

    It is the nation’s fault for chasing after the elephant (dreams too big). It is the people’s fault for being blind but we never have any choices anyway. It is the architect’s fault for complying to things that will get you paid (or laid).

    Bureaucracy is always in fault for its tireless effort to control. Sure, scrap the plan if it got so bad, but we all know that the architectural industry (the term industry is a drag…) has been all messed up. What if the new plan’s even more messed up?

    People blame everyone from all sides, but this is surely a project in chaos. Whose original plan was it to plan the stadium in a over-bloated scale? Client? Bureaucrats? For what? Money? Pooling and washing money? Someone calls out that the revised plan shows Hadid’s lack of effort to prove her whatevers. Really? What about schedule, budget, client’s still over-demanding requirements? Then Hadid calls out for complaints, and the media picks it up as a race claim.

    Petition by starchitects… how Chanel is that? Now it’s time to restart, waste a bit more tax money and complain more. Because, the lady who redid her scheme didn’t change enough, or think enough, or was just not enough. But enough blaming, because it only makes a good chat over architects’ breakfast table.

    Perhaps egos at the door, and we could have waited another 50 years to see and say “oh, it did make sense”, “her plan was perfect” but we die young and most likely the building won’t last that long. So a bunch of over-50 archies had to gang up, but that could also be justice, because Hadid’s architecture is in fact ‘controversial’. So who’s fault is it anyway? We won’t know why. So we gossip. HEY! But we are forgetting whose money we’re wasting!