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Mocked And Maligned, Japan Spikes Plan For $2 Billion Olympic Stadium

Tokyo's proposed National Stadium, a key part of its 2020 Olympics plan, is being reopened to design proposals after Japanese officials said new cost estimates had risen sharply.
Japan Sports Council
Tokyo's proposed National Stadium, a key part of its 2020 Olympics plan, is being reopened to design proposals after Japanese officials said new cost estimates had risen sharply.

Its cost had swollen to more than $2 billion; its design sparked an unflattering meme. And now Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics to start over with their plan to build a centerpiece stadium.

"I have decided to bring the current (building) plan for the new National Stadium back to the drawing board and review the plan from scratch," Abe said, according to Kyodo News.

The change was announced more than two years after London-based architect Zaha Hadid's design for the new National Stadium was chosen — and five years before the Tokyo Games are scheduled to begin in July of 2020.

Japanese officials say they'll now have to back out of a promise to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup in the new stadium. But they insist they'll still make their 2020 deadline, with a new plan in place by this autumn.

With its double arches and sleek, contoured design, Hadid's plan for the new National Stadium was often compared to a bicycle helmet. But it also became the butt of jokes — particularly last week, when people used an artist's rendering of the Olympic venue to recast it as (among other things) a toddler's toilet.

Tokyo's Olympic venue was poised to rocket to the top of the list of the world's most expensive stadiums, supplanting the MetLife stadium in New Jersey that cost $1.6 billion. It also would have cost more than three recent Summer Olympics stadiums combined, including venues in London and Beijing.

With its sweeping exterior walkways and huge arches traversing its length, the large scale of the Tokyo stadium led a group of prominent Japanese architects and designers to protest against it in 2013.

Protests grew last month, when officials said they would stick with their plan despite construction estimates that had ballooned to more than $2 billion. Hundreds of people took to the streets — and Zaha Hadid Architects eventually said it would refine the design.

But all of that changed Friday, after Abe spoke to Tokyo organizers.

"Abe apparently feared a backlash from angry voters," reports the Japan Times. The news site adds, "The revised price, which came without any public explanation, is believed to have negatively affected public approval ratings for the Abe Cabinet in recent polls."

The committee that adopted the Hadid design was led by revered Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who praised its futuristic look when it was selected.

"I believe this stadium will become a shrine for world sport for the next 100 years," Ando said.

But that was when the estimated cost of the stadium was a comparatively reasonable $1.3 billion. The estimate was revised sharply upward last month.

"When I heard the latest estimate, I thought 'No way!' Something must be done," Ando said Thursday, as he and other officials called for cutting costs in the project. "From the viewpoint of the ordinary people, it's just unthinkable."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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