The troubled history of Zaha Hadid’s Tokyo Olympic stadium project

The troubled history of zaha hadid's tokyo olympic stadium project

It was to land in the middle of Tokyo’s Meiji Park like an intergalactic bike helmet, bulging above its low-rise surroundings in futuristic white arcs, but now Zaha Hadid’s design for the 2022 Olympic stadium will be no more. With costs escalating to 252bn yen (£1.3bn, $2bn) – almost double the original budget and making it the most expensive stadium of modern times – the oversized arena has finally been scrapped.

For many, the project’s cancellation is almost two years overdue. Ever since it was unveiled in 2013, the design has faced fierce criticism from all quarters, suggesting it was doomed from the start. Japan’s most eminent architects came out all guns blazing when the designs were first released, organising a symposium against the scheme which resulted in a petition calling for the project to be stopped, describing the design as a “monstrosity completely out of scale with the surrounding mixed-residential environs”.

They highlighted the fact that the stadium sits in a historic area with a 20-metre height limit on new buildings, yet Hadid’s scheme would have risen to 70 metres, looming over the gardens of the Meiji shrine. Led by Pritzker prize-winner Fumihiko Maki, along with Toyo Ito, Kengo Kuma and Sou Fujimoto, the petition gained over 80,000 signatures – the same as the capacity as the planned megastructure.

The petition was swiftly followed by a blistering assault from Arata Isozaki , architect of Barcelona’s Olympic stadium, who described Hadid’s project as a “monumental mistake” and warned it would be a “disgrace to future generations”. In a lengthy open letter to the Japan Sports Council, the government body in charge of plans for the 2022 games, he railed against the “distorted” process that had led to “a dull, slow form, like a turtle waiting for Japan to sink so that it can swim away”. []

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