The Japan National Stadium, designed by the renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, is the main venue for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Kuma’s stadium replaced the controversial design by Zaha Hadid, which was scrapped due to cost concerns.
Despite the pressure that is often faced by architects of the Games’ venues to envision visually striking, iconic designs, Kengo Kuma stays true to the approach that has distinguished many of his countless projects: incorporating sustainable elements of traditional Japanese architecture in designs that are decisively contemporary.
The result is a plain, durable building that appears to merge seamlessly with its park-like surroundings. Plant-filled terraces wrap around the oval-shaped stadium, which is constructed partly of repurposed timber. The interplay of light and shadow is apparent through the layers of wood-and-steel latticed canopy that covers the stands. A far cry from the flashy, sweeping designs of most Olympics stadiums, Kuma’s building does not demand attention. It simply serves its purpose in harmony with the surroundings.
Kuma’s design is a timely response to the crisis facing the architecture of the Olympics. With many inoperative buildings in former Olympics host cities all over the world burdening citizens with rising costs of maintenance, fewer countries have bid for the opportunity to host future Games. Japan’s history of maintaining the relevance and functionality of its Games buildings far beyond their initial use is a commendable example that can continue to inform and inspire future designs for Olympics host cities. Like Kenzo Tange’s Yoyogi National Stadium, built for the 1964 Olympics and continuously used and maintained, Kenzo Kuma’s National Stadium has the potential to demonstrate an enduring functionality that can benefit and fulfill the needs of its residents for decades to come.