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Tokyo National Stadium with olympic rings on the outside
Tokyo National Stadium with olympic rings on the outside
Building the Olympic National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan
5 Minute Read
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July 23, 2021

Building the Olympic National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan

Building up an Olympic city is no small feat. Each Olympic event - summer Olympics in particular - needs a pool, track, river or lake (for water events), gyms, stadiums, tracks and arenas. With sports ranging from judo, boxing and gymnastics to diving, marathons and mountain biking, there’s a lot that goes into planning for the Olympic Games. However, no other building gets more attention than the primary Olympic Stadium. For the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, the Olympic Stadium has a particularly interesting past. 

Is it the 2020 or 2021 Olympics?

The 2020 Summer Olympics was pushed off until the summer of 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the Olympics are taking place in 2021, the official slogan still remains “Tokyo 2020”.

The History of Olympic Stadiums

Ever since the very first Olympics in Athens in 1896, arenas have been built to house sports and events. That first Olympic stadium in Athens was an outdoor arena that sat 80,000 people. The largest Olympic Stadium to date is the 2000 Summer Olympic Stadium in Sydney, Australia. It holds about 114,700 people and is still used today as a sports and concert stadium. 

The Significance of Stadiums

Iconic Olympic stadiums are where opening and closing ceremonies are held. The architecture and design of these buildings offer insights into trends of the time and reflect the culture that hosted the event and of the locale in which they are built. After the Olympics, many of these stadiums continue to be used for sporting events, for national and international competitions, concerts and more. These stadiums represent the grandeur of sport, the gathering of people and the coming-together of the world in the spirit of competition. 

Tokyo Olympics

Tokyo has hosted the Olympic games twice throughout history. The first time was in 1964 for the summer Olympic games.

It was for this Olympic season that Tokyo built the National Stadium. Located in Kasumigaoka, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, the National Stadium was used for opening and closing ceremonies as well as track and field events in 1964. Since then, the arena has been used by Japan’s national football team, FIFA matches, concerts, world athletic competitions and more. 

When Japan bid to host the 2020 Olympics, there was much public outcry about the cost of building yet another stadium. There was much debate around rebuilding, renovation and demolition of the old stadium for a new one. The costs either way would be astronomical - as it usually is for such large-scale projects.

The decision was made to demolish the old National Stadium and to rebuild a newer, more futuristic stadium in its place. While there was still opposition to this decision, the choice was made to move forward with the demolition and rebuilding of the stadium

It was September 7, 2013 when Japan won the bid to host the 2020 Olympics. By March 2015 demolition began. Excavators helped to tear down the stands. By the fall, construction began on the New National Stadium. 

Architectural Engineering of the New National Stadium

The building that stands today is not the initial design that was selected. The first was a dual-arched stadium designed by Zaha Hadid in a competition specifically to choose a design for the stadium. Zaha Hadid had designed the Aquatics Center in London for the 2012 Olympics. While budget was a big reason that many were opposed to this design, many Japanese architects rallied against it as well. Their protests to it revolved around it not fitting in with Japanese culture or the surrounding area. The stadium was “too big” and should be reduced to better fit the context of the games and the neighborhood. 

They scrapped Zaha’s design, going instead with Japanese Architect Kengo Kuma. The new design would cost about 153 billion yen ($1.39 billion USD) - about 100 billion yen less than Zaha’s initial building. 

Who Is Kengo Kuma?

Kengo Kuma is one of the most significant contemporary architects from Japan. He believes in using traditional Japanese construction traditions and is known to be critical of the “concrete method of construction”. He uses wood, stone, ceramics, bamboo, vinyl and plastic as the main materials in his designs. 

Kengo’s design for the Olympic stadium uses steel and wood as it’s main materials. The exterior of the stadium holds trees, bushes, flowers and shrubs to promote a green and natural feeling to the buildings. It is 164 feet tall with a flat roof and an open top. Another bonus of this design over the first one is

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believes that this new design fits the feeling of Japan and the games more. He is quoted in an article from the Guardian saying, “This is a wonderful plan which meets the basic vision in the new construction plan and requirements for the construction period and the budget.” 

Japanese Design in the National Stadium

The exterior of the stadium features multi-layered “eaves”. Eaves are a traditional part of Japanese architecture and were built in response to the Japanese climate by allowing cool breezes to pass through the exterior while still blocking out sunshine and heat. 

Construction of The National Stadium

Construction of the Stadium took from December 2016 to November 30, 2019. When all was said and done, it cost about 157 billion yen ($1.4 billion USD). The stadium officially opened on December 21, 2019. 

Construction was overseen by Taisei Corporation - a Japanese company that was founded in 1873. They have been involved in many Japanese construction projects including modernization of the country's cities, economic growth post-war reconstruction and projects aimed to support increasing globalization in Japan. Their projects range from social infrastructure and community development to reconstruction after natural disasters. Their philosophy is “To create a vibrant environment for all members of society”. With such dedication to the community of Japan, it’s no surprise that Taisei was the one overseeing the Olympic Stadium Construction. 

Sports Taking Place in the 2020 Olympic Games

Some of the sports and athletic competitions that will occur at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games include marathon running, pole jump, sailing, basketball, swimming, gymnastics, badminton, BMX, skateboarding, judo, surfing, weightlifting and more. 

This year, there are some new sports that will be taking place. Some new Olympic competitions include surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate. Baseball and softball will be returning to the games for the first time in the past 13 years. 

The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo Japan

It’s been a long road getting to the 2020 Olympics - especially since they’re taking place in 2021. Construction of the new National Stadium in Tokyo Japan was just one of the many milestones to get us to the games. In a way, the 2020 (aka 2021) Olympics are the perfect representation of what the games are about: resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity and obstacles. In a way, the National Stadium is the perfect venue to represent this feeling and is best suited to host the most impressive display of athletic competition of athletes from around the world. 

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