It seems controversy over the new National Stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics isn’t over yet.

Let’s have a quick recap of the National Stadium saga for those of you playing along at home.

In the bid to get the Olympics, organizers decided to tear down the beloved 54,000-seat National Stadium in Shinjuku Ward, the centerpiece the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and build a new stadium on the same site. In 2012, a design from award-winning Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid and her London-based firm was chosen.

▼ The original design by Zaha Hadid Architects

winner_work_img_1Image: Japan Sport Council

Tokyo was awarded the Games in September of 2013, but just three months later, Hadid was asked to revise her design due to ballooning costs. Even after the revisions, the total cost stood at 250 billion yen, more than three times the cost for the London 2012 main stadium and double the amount Tokyo organizers were hoping to achieve.

Organizers and Hadid disagreed on the cause of the budget problem, with Hadid placing the blame largely on rising material and manpower costs and the Olympic committee pointing the finger at difficult-to-build elements in the design. Hadid also suggested that resentment over a non-Japanese architect being chosen played a role in the conflict. Finally, her design was scrapped and another design competition was held.

The new winner was a design submitted by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma in cooperation with construction firm Taisei Corp. and design firm Azusa Sekkei Co., both of which were contractors working on the Hadid design.

▼Kengo Kuma’s design

NNSJImage: Japan Sport Council

Hadid and others pointed to similarities between the designs, the overlapping contractors and the fact that the new design was drawn up in just 14 weeks, compared to two years for Hadid’s original, to suggest that parts of the new stadium had been plagiarized from her work. These accusations were bolstered when the Telegraph reported that Japan Sport Council was withholding payment until Hadid signed a new contract releasing the copyright to her designs and submitting to a gag order on the matter. Hadid has refused to sign the new contract and threatened legal action.

Last Friday, Kuma held a press conference in Tokyo to talk about his design and he firmly denied that any of it was plagiarized.

Kuma admitted that there were some similarities between the two designs, but chalked this up to the requirements of the project. For example, both stadiums use a three-layer structure, but Kuma said this is the most reasonable arrangement to ensure good sight-lines. In fact, about 80 percent of the designs submitted in the contest used the same approach. Similarities in the layout of the seats were due to Tokyo fire codes, he said.

“The conditions of the competition mean automatically that there are certain technical similarities in the designs. However, in the design aspects of the stadiums, I would like to say that there are no similarities,” he stated.

He explained that Hadid’s design, which he praised as being “wonderful and unique”, uses a high saddle-shaped concept while his stays as low and flat as possible to better blend in with the character of the neighborhood and create a feeling of closeness between athletes and spectators. Additionally, he focused on using elements from traditional Japanese design, incorporating overhanging eaves and beams made from domestic wood.

He further stated that he was not privy to any of the discussions between the Japan Sport Council and Hadid, nor had he spoken with Zaha Hadid directly, so he was not aware of the details of their negotiations.

And now you are all caught up, Rocketeers. Good thing, too, because we likely haven’t heard the end of this story.

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