Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Efforts to save the city's 56-year-old National Stadium won't stop the wrecking ball, but rising costs are forcing officials to pull back on building new venues.
Approximately 500 people marched around Tokyo's National Stadium last Saturday to protest plans for its demolition. Used for the 1964 Summer Olympics and slated for demolition this month, its replacement has become the face of a 2020 games budget that's already spiraled upward enough for officials to start revising their plan.
Zaha Hadid won the commission to build an 80,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof in 2012, almost a full year before Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Olympics. Estimates for the construction of the stadium ballooned to as much as $3 billion by last fall.
As it was originally planned, the 3.1 million-square-foot stadium would be more than twice the size of the 56-year-old arena that stands on the site today. A structure that big would eliminate some nearby buildings and green space.
The Japan Sport Council has already announced that it will find a way to make the stadium cost no more than $1.7 billion. Hadid's firm now says it has in fact been modifying its proposal, though design changes haven't been announced yet. Speaking in vague terms that suggest a scaled-down version is indeed on its way, a spokesperson from the firm said earlier this week that they'll "optimize the investment and make the stadium even more efficient, user-focused, adaptable, and sustainable.”
It's not the only planned facility getting a second look. Last month, International Olympic Committee vice president John Coates asked officials in Tokyo to avoid unnecessary spending and welcomed the idea of scaling back plans. "We want to see more existing venues, we want to see the use of more temporary grandstands," Coates told Reuters. "It may be that there are new venues and existing venues at the moment that are dedicated for just one sport, where with good programming you could do two."
In June, Japan announced it was revisiting its plans for the 10 new venues it wants to build by 2020. Thanks to an expanding economy, a consumption-tax hike, and post-tsunami rebuilding efforts, construction and labor costs have risen sharply across the country.
According to Japanese media, a new venue for kayak and canoe events saw bids come in 15 times higher than expected, mostly due to infrastructure work that had been previously unaccounted for. Even National Stadium's demolition was delayed as initial work bids came in unexpectedly high.
The country's winning bid in 2013 for the games included $4.5 billion reserve fund for new construction, most of it within a five-mile radius of the Olympic Village. In meetings last month, Japanese officials brainstormed cost-cutting measures. One idea discussed included scrapping a proposed basketball and badminton facility and using an already built stadium 15 miles from the city center instead.
With the IOC's newfound appreciation for cost savings and a Japanese public showing little interest in an extravagant Games, it appears that new budget concerns really will force officials to modify their architectural goals.
Despite cries from average citizens and prestigious architects, the old National Stadium remains slated for demolition. Once the wrecking ball first hits, the Mitsuo Katayama-designed structure will come down slowly over the next 14 months.
Carrying signs with slogans such as, “We want a compact and economical Olympics," some protesters on site last weekend could tolerate a smaller, cheaper stadium by Hadid. But many are sure the 56-year building it's replacing needs little more than a renovation to make it 2020-ready.
“[The IOC] clearly stipulated that host countries try to use existing facilities where possible, yet they are not abiding by this,” architect-activist Edward Suzuki told Architectural Record over the weekend. As for the fate of all the other new venues, a revised plan will be submitted to the IOC by February next year.