The centrepiece of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, this venue’s reconstruction from the pre-existing National Stadium, completed in 1958, was a contentious matter. The initial design by British-Iraqi architect Dame Zaha Hadid – estimated to cost ¥252 billion – was axed after it was deemed too impractical by the government, leading Kengo Kuma to compete with Toyo Ito to take over the project. Kuma’s design was ultimately selected for its emphasis on harmony with the surrounding neighbourhood, which is also home to the Meiji Jingu Gaien (Outer Garden).
Just under 200,000sqm in size and coming in at ¥157 billion to build, the new structure is significantly smaller and more affordable than Hadid’s plan. Completed in early 2020, the elegant stadium exemplifies classic Japanese aesthetics inspired in part by the pagoda of Nara’s Horyuji Temple.
Like the temple’s pagoda, the wooden eaves of the stadium overlap and are visible from the venue’s exterior. As you walk the perimeter of the mammoth structure, you’ll notice Kuma’s signature wood lattices. He has described the concept behind the stadium as a ‘living tree’, which features wood sourced from all 47 Japanese prefectures.
Rather than being purely decorative, the eaves provide a practical and sustainable way to keep spectators cool in Tokyo’s sweltering summer heat. By analysing wind conditions and air flow, Kuma was able to angle the eaves to maximise the breeze that sweeps through the stadium, which will eliminate reliance on air conditioning.