Architecture – All eyes are on Tokyo for the Olympics and Paralympics Games. Due to the travel ban and rising covid-19 cases, athletes from around the world compete in mostly empty venues designed by leading Japanese studios. We decided to look into the best of the Olympics architecture because, besides all issues, they might represent a promise, a difficult compromise, and an optimist attempt to be together again, for good. And when all this Covid-stuff will be over, remind that Tokyo will be more beautiful than ever!
The games take place in 43 venues – 8 new permanent ones, 10 temporary ones and 25 existing facilities, some of which were built for the Tokyo 1964 Olympics. This year’s main venue is the Japan National Stadium by Kengo Kuma, which hosts the closing ceremony. Rebuilt in 2019 specifically for the Games, the oval stadium is now set to host athletics and football competitions. Kengo Kuma described it as a “living tree,” indeed, the sustainable building uses plenty of timber in its construction and is ringed with prominent horizontals, which are said to evoke the overhanging eaves of traditional Japanese buildings.
But the stadium comes with quite a controversial history. Zaha Hadid Architects won the international competition, but their £1.3b project was dropped following concerns over costs and opposition from Japanese architects, Dezeen reported. Actually, the budget of the games is a big issue in Japan: the overall cost was supposed to cost $ 7.2bn, but it is currently estimated at $18,8bn.
Unfortunately, other figures are more worrying. Covid-19 cases are rising – also among the athletes, coaches and staff in the Olympic village, a brand-new district on the Harumi artificial island. Sum it with a slow national vaccination plan and do not get surprised that 83% of Japanese people said they wanted it postponed or canceled.
Back in 1964, when Tokyo hosted its first Olympic Games, the mood was completely different. At the time, Japan proudly showed off the image of a thriving democratic country, raising its head from the rubbles of World War II. And architecture played an essential role in delivering such a message.
For the occasion, Kenzo Tange built the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which will now host handball, badminton and wheelchair rugby matches. Its complex structural system with cantilevers, hanging roofs and hovering concrete allow zenith lighting to enter the playfield [Opening picture]. Back then, Mamoru Yamada completed the iconic martial arts stadium Nippon Budokan. The octagonal modernist building was inspired by a Buddhist temple in Nara and now hosts the judo and karate competitions.
Among the most notable venues of the Olympics are the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium – 1991 – hosting tennis matches under its futuristic steel roof that locals likened to a samurai helmet. The Makuhari Messe Hall – 1989, fencing, taekwondo, wrestling and goalball – was entirely built from precast concrete and a structural steel frame and is topped by a dynamic, curved roof. Both the venues were designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning Fumihiko Maki, linked to the infamous Metabolist Movement.
The tennis competitions go on show at the post-modernist Ariake Coliseum by Takeshi Takahashi, 1987. The building features a retractable roof structure that pre-dates the one at Wimbledon in London. Nearby the Ariake Arena by Kume Sekkei, 2019, hosts the volleyball and wheelchair basketball matches under a convex roof that recalls the shape of a wave.
Among the brand-new architectures is the Tokyo Aquatic Centre by Tange Associates and Yamashita Sekkey, 2020 – Swimming, diving and synchronised swimming. Like an inverted pyramid, the building mirrors the shape of the stands within. Badminton, fencing and wheelchair basketball take place at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza by Nihon Sekkei, 2017, which comes with a warped and sliced vaulted roof.
Past and new generations of architects built the venues of the Tokyo Olympics Games 2020. The result is a mix of sobriety, moderate flamboyance and futuristic buildings from the past that. Together, reflect a hesitant hope for better days to come. Besides that, it is still time to dream and support athletes from around the globe, fighting for a fair and positive future.