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Japan scraps Tokyo Olympic Stadium design over cost hurdle

After weeks of arduous criticism from citizens and athletes over the cost of Tokyo’s new Olympic Stadium, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a complete review of plans for the current design of the prime venue of the 2020 Summer Olympics. The controversial plans for the giant and expensive ‘bike-helmet’ shaped stadium – designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid has been put under review amid growing public rage since the cost of the project surpassed its original cost unexpectedly, making it the most expensive stadium ever built. The current cost estimate would have pushed it beyond the $1.6 billion MetLife Stadium that was completed in 2010 for the New York Jets and Giants football teams. The government is starting to explore alternate ways to curb the unexpectedly high construction costs of the project, providing the centerpiece stadium’s not even built yet. Officials have hinted that there is a possibility that the design could be scrapped in the coming weeks.

“We decided that we will start over from the beginning,” Mr. Abe after a nearly two-hour meeting with Yoshiro Mori, the Olympic Committee Chairman said. “We made this decision with the confidence that we will complete the stadium in time for the Olympic Games.” Abe said the revision of the design means the stadium won’t be ready for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, as planned.

The ultramodern stadium has been the subject of furious argument in Japan for quite some time now, facing fierce opposition from leading architects including Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, who designed the Tokyo gymnasium for the 1964 Olympics. Maki organized a symposium gathering a throng of designers including Toyo Ito, Kengo Kuma, Sou Fujimoto and Riken Yamamoto to oppose the design of Zaha Hadid’s futuristic Olympic stadium. The group pointed out that the biggest problem of the project is its cost and the length of construction. The stadium is set to be completed in 2018.

Iraqi-born Hadid won a competition in November 2012 to design the new National Stadium for Japan. The new 80,000-seat stadium is set to replace the existing Kasumigaoka Stadium, which hosted the games in 1964. The site was demolished earlier this year. The arena has also been earmarked to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup and a possible venue for future FIFA World Cup matches. Japan Sports Council commissioned the stadium and proposed installing high-tech gadgets from seats equipped with monitors to a facial recognition system to replace tickets. They wanted it to be the world’s “number one stadium.”

The government’s original budget for the venue was around ¥130 billion (over $1 billion), which ballooned to as high as ¥300 billion ($2.4 billion), over double the cost of the original proposal, eliciting calls for the project to be downsized. Costs were then pushed to ¥252 billion ($2.02 billion) following budgets cuts, design revisions, demolition delays and cost blowouts, but that wasn’t enough to sell it to the critics. Now that, Abe announced plans to start over from the beginning, Japan’s sports and Olympics ministers will have to propose a new design for the international venue, featuring two gigantic keel arches for a roof. It’s up to the government to either change the basic design altogether or push an extension period in the construction to lower the cost. In either case, the stadium would not be completed before the Rugby World Cup.