Elisha Chauhan asks industry experts to assess the Tokyo 2020 national stadium saga, and whether it will be ready on time and on budget, having dropped Zaha Hadid Architects’ controversial design.
Five years to go before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic cauldron is lit, and there has already been a public outcry from its residents, political chaos, an international dispute and a prime minister’s apology. All because of a stadium.
But not just any stadium – the world’s most expensive sports venue design in history priced at an eye-watering $2bn. The project was designed by the award-winning British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, who stood by her design from the beginning despite criticisms about its size and cost (see Timeline below).
“The whole situation is a big mess. The government is working on the new procedures in a highly secretive way,” Tsuyoshi Tane, DGT Architects founding partner, told SportBusiness International. The Japan Sport Council chose not to comment on this feature.
Tane’s national stadium design was shortlisted as a finalist back in October 2012 – his innovative concept was based around an underground stadium that’s open roof was exposed at the top of a mound covered by trees and greenery. Being Japanese – although based in Paris – Tane knew his design would align with Japan’s respect of nature and would not be conspicuous like most stadia.
“At the moment we don’t know any information about a new tender process, but when Tokyo 2020 decides to reopen the design competition, we are very interested in participating again. The original design was an early concept, so we need to develop our project more but are keeping the same idea. Even if there is a much smaller budget, our stadium will still be able to be built,” he added.
The Blame Game
On being notified by the press about the cancelled design contract rather than the LOC, Zaha Hadid released a statement blaming the influx in costs down to the government’s insistence that a Japanese construction firm be used to build the project.
In addition to that restriction, the Japanese construction market is at a marked-up price due to the demand of projects for the damage caused by the 2011 tsunami and other Olympic infrastructure. Hadid also claimed that the domestic industry is raising its prices by 25 per cent year-on-year because of the strain on construction firms.
The whole situation is a big mess. The government is working on the new procedures in a highly secretive way
“It’s difficult to say what each side – Zaha Hadid and the LOC – could have done better to avoid this problem, but every outcome of a design competition is only as good as the scope and scale of the working brief,” Stefan Klos, CEO of venue management and consultation company ProProjekt, told SportBusiness International.
“There’s normally an initial feasibility study and calculations before tendering out a project of that size, in order to make sure you can stay on budget. I’m not aware if that had been carried out, but I guess it was not only the pressure from the political side, but it was also the pressure from the public to reduce the costs.
“I think the reason why the LOC is reopening the tender process, is because the old design was not only Zaha Hadid’s fault, but the fault of the design brief. So they need to start a completely new competition that’s probably based on a reduced size and hence cost.”
According to Klos the LOC is in “a vicious circle” because the issue with reopening the tender process is the LOC is wasting more time to complete the construction, and a tighter schedule means a higher price – the one thing it is trying to avoid in the first place.
Meanwhile, Tane said that there isn’t enough time to complete the project to a high-specification, and the LOC should consider opening up the construction contracts to the global market to help counter the rising costs.
“I hope it’s not the case that the stadium design will be basic due to the scrutiny on the budget. The biggest pressure in this whole process will be on the designer, because everyone wants the project to be cheap but no one will be happy if the stadium doesn’t look good,” he said.
“However, a major problem with using a foreign construction firm will be the language barrier – that may delay procedures, and time is not what the LOC has.”
Regardless of the quality of the stadium design, Klos believes that a 70,000-seat venue – a typical size to host Olympic opening and closing ceremonies – would cost “at the absolute lowest” $750m. This is excluding any conversion costs the venue would need for its post-Games uses, with the equivalent London Olympic stadium cost reaching £270m.
As a glimmer of hope for the Tokyo national stadium, Klos added that it’s not the design of the stadium that makes it great, but what happens inside of it. He also believes that the LOC will not be more inclined – or even forced into – choosing a Japanese architect following the stadium dispute with Zaha Hadid.
“A lot of British football stadia that are iconic aren’t really that beautiful, and on the other side there are great looking venues like the Bird’s Nest national stadium in Beijing that isn’t really sustainable in terms of returning on investment through day-to-day operations.
“I don’t think international companies will be put off the project because of the saga and the public scrutiny on the budget. However, maybe many of the international companies who apply for the new design competition will work in partnership with a Japanese firm in order to stay on top of the local feelings toward the project if they do win.”
Tokyo National Stadium Timeline
28 July 2009: Japan wins rights to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup
16 November 2012: Zaha Hadid Architects wins international design competition for Japan’s new national stadium. The project is estimated to cost $1.6bn in Tokyo’s 2020 bid book
7 September 2013: International Olympic Committee (IOC) awards 2020 Olympic hosting rights to Tokyo
23 October 2013: Japanese minister in charge of education, sports and science, Hakubun Shimomura, tells Parliament that the 80,000-seater stadium would now cost around $3bn and it will be scaled down, following heavy criticism about its size and cost. A month later the Japan Sport Council (JSC) agrees to scale back the floor space of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium by a quarter and it will now cost $1.8bn
19 December 2013: Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose, one of the key figures behind Tokyo’s winning bid for the Games, steps down after an alleged bribery scandal unrelated to the 2020 Olympics
6 October 2014: JSC confirms the stadium construction is to be delayed until at least mid-December due to a complaint of irregularities in an earlier round of tender bids to demolish the existing stadium
7 July 2015: JSC formally commits to the Zaha Hadid design
17 July 2015: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe orders a complete review of plans for the stadium, and says it will be completed in March 2020, ruling out its hosting of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.