Monday, 19 May 2014

HA HA Hadid?

As reported on Inhabitat today, in the latest twist in the saga of Zaha Hadid's competition winning design for the main stadium of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, 2013 Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito has proposed an alternative stadium plan that would slash the current expected price tag in half.
"Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Stadium has been embroiled in controversy ever since Zaha Hadid unveiled plans for the massive trilobite-like structure last fall. Japanese architects rallied against the design, taking issue with the high construction costs, proposed destruction of the landscape, and the potential forced relocation of residents housed in a nearby development. A group of architects even launched an online petition on to garner support–at the time of writing, the petition only needs another 1,200 signatures in order to launch an official challenge. Although the Japanese government eventually acquiesced last November and announced plans to downsize Hadid’s designs to save costs, many architects were still not satisfied with the proposed scale back."
It is tempting to attribute the backlash to the notoriously parochial attitudes of the Japanese to almost any initiative by foreigners on Japanese soil, be it in the corporate world, or any other.  But even if such factors contribute to the manner in which the protest has unfolded, you can't argue with more objective aspects of the dispute.  

Olympic stadia are an almost absurdly simple canvas on which to lay out considerations of headline heroics versus sensible sustainable legacies.  Elsewhere on my blog, there is discussion of the Beijing Birdsnest versus the London Olympic Stadium, and a more general discussion of the legacies of Sydney and Athens.  It could not be clearer: the approach of Ito and his mates aligns with the softly, softly approach of London, informed by the practices introduced in Sydney to utilise reversible construction methods for the peak capacities of the one off event.  Hadid's loose wristed slash across the face of Tokyo aligns with the gargantuan folly of the Beijing autocrats.

In the absence of other information, it is hardly certain that 'half the cost' is a reliable comparison between Hadid's scheme and the alternative.  But as both would be subject to the usual blow-outs, I would put a sporting bet on the claim being plausible.  If so, the authorities in Tokyo would surely think of no end of socially useful things to spend the savings on.  Creating a 'future fund' for effectively cleaning up lingering impacts of the Fukushima disaster would be a good start.  Sorry, I couldn't help myself there........

Oh hell, if I am going to reveal my prejudices, here goes:  I hate that Hadad stadium anyway, for all the same reasons the Japanese architecture establishment hates it.  I am willing to sign that petition, if a foreigner counts.


Amy Meng said...

I agree with the Japanese architects that Hadid's design is not appropriate for Japan. Though on Hadid's website she claims that "it is a piece of the city's fabric, and urban connector which enhances and modulates people moving through the site", the renderings demonstrate that Hadid had little understanding and consideration for the surrounding site. To me Japanese architecture is the epitome of efficient yet elegant use of space due to limited land, and their national stadium should represent that. Even for a big event such as the Olympics, Hadid cannot justify the enormous scale for her stadium. Comparatively, Beijing's Bird Nest was designed to host 90,000 people but still smaller than Hadid's proposed stadium. It seems to me that Olympics stadiums are becoming more and more like symbols and sculptures, and are anything but sustainable. Again, take the Bird Nest for instance, I still remember how much national pride it brought the Chinese people when the stadium was completed. However, today the Bird Nest is mostly vacant and gets very few visitors. Two years ago I paid a visit there, but apparently the building was completely closed off and the guards would not let me enter. Nevertheless, the Bird Nest still cost millions to maintain each year. A number of tactics has been tried to maintain its glorious image. Manmade ski-slopes turned it into a temporary winter wonderland in 2010, and segways tracks were also created inside the stadium. However, neither of those strategies lasted long. The destiny of the Bird Nest tells us that perhaps most stadiums will end up as white elephants.

On the other hand, the water cube in the nearby precinct has found an afterlife. One part of it has been turned into a water park, it has even launched a line of branded goods. The Water Cube was engineered by Arup with a consciously sustainable approach. The highly structure is clad with translucent ETFE (ethyl tetra fluoro ethylene), a tough, recyclable material that weighs just one percent of an equivalent sized glass panel. The bubble cladding lets in more light than glass and thoroughly cleans itself with every rain shower. It is also a better insulator than glass, and is much more resistant to the weathering effects of sunlight. One would think that with such great strategy the Water Cube is bound to cost a lot less than the Bird Nest, but no, it still required $1.5 million in government subsidies just in the year 2011. The situation of the Water Cube reminds me of San Francisco's Federal Building in another recent blog entry, the building that claims to be sustainable but really isn't. The same post also writes "architecture exists within these economic and political conditions", and I agree with it. Surely a country hosting the Olympics is seeking architecture that can elevate their political status on an international level, no matter how much it may cost them in the end. Therefore it is the architect's role to really push and integrate sustainability in their design, not just in small scale housing, but
also large scale buildings.


Yunjing Guan said...

I understand why Zaha has become target of public criticism again. At the first look at her design, it seems to lose its scale and connection to the context. Basically the design lacks enough space to the environment and becomes too massive and overwhelming and eventually disturbs the balance and harmony of the urban fabrics. However, having this alien-look form as her style, Zaha is actually popular and welcomed in the other part of the world. I have seen quite a lot positive comments on Zaha’s newly built Galaxy SOHO in Beijing, and the Innovation Tower at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. They are both big scale buildings and have little connection to the context as the proposed Tokyo Stadium, but people just accept them as landmarks.

Personally, I am neutral towards Zaha Hadid. At least she explored and discovered another possibility of architecture. Some of her early design are commondable. For me, she did not become a joke and lose in architecture form until the audience in the London Aquatic Center asked for ticket refund because the roof was blocking their sight of the diving competition. (

While what the petition is questioning is not the architecture form but the scale of the stadium. Indeed, it is to be argued whether it is worthy to spend so much money on this kind of “starchitecture”. I don’t think the capacity, the location or the basic budget of the proposed architecture are to be decided by the architect. I am wondering how much social responsibility should an architect carry. If from an environmental perspective landmark architecture is a waste of money, why didn’t those Japanese architecture have a petition towards the stadium itself rather than Zaha Hadid?

I doubt the meaning of opening a discussion on the scale, the environment impact and other taxation issue etc. at this stage( after the announcement of the winner)I have seen the schemes from other finalist, some of them do present consideration to the context, but some issues that Fumihiko Maki pointed out in his discussion actually exist in some other scheme, and none of them is small.(unfortunately the translation is in Chinese)( Would there be the same discussion if the competition is not won by this highly controversial architect?

This petition is questioned if it's prejudice and local protectionism from Japanese architects. But judging from the petition, instead of directly pointing at Zaha, the question object of the petition is actually the inappropriate decision of the jury, or perhaps more exactly the jury chair Tadao Ando.

Girges Nagieb said...

Architecture is not just about the building

I hope this response won’t be another stab at Zaha Hadid but more so a reality check for all architects. Architecture is not just about the building. It is evident that those who interact with a particular site, space, building, land etc, are the ones who are going to provide the most insight for your next design. I remember reading an article on ArchDaily by Christine Outram titled “Why I Left Architecture”. Christine says it bluntly architects (generally speaking) don’t understand people. She says that architects are more interested in the experimentation of form then the understanding of people.

It makes sense though, architects do design for people. There has always been a fascination with how a building looks, or the design process to how the architect came to a particular response, but rarely do you see an in depth ethnographic research. Anthropological research is just as important as any part go the design process. This is probably why the Japanese design community and Japanese people in general didn’t take well to the Zaha Hadid design.

Christine goes on in the article about the Starbucks coffee chain and how they surveyed hundreds of coffee drinkers seeking insight into how they wanted a coffee shop to be. Walk into a Starbucks today and you will notice round tables, the result of asking those coffee drinkers, who helped conclude “that their are no empty seats at a round table”. Just a start of how influential peoples input can be. This sort of investment of effort into this sort of research before a design is concluded, can possibly save you the bad responses you will get from the locals and press, such as this incident with Zaha Hadid or the Calatrava incident (reference to the Calatrava post).

I understand why architects can sometimes see past the anthropology of building design it is so easy to be caught up in how something looks and all the requirements needed to have the design passed. But there needs to be more of an emphasis on gathering significant ethnographic research data. As Christine mentions Architecture seems to be all about the hype, whats the latest materials, how far can one push gravity with their form. But what seems to be missing are the people, the culture that exists now and that will continue to exist as a result of this new form that has been built. Just think, if you were to ever conduct a survey and asked for feedback about your design from those who inhabit it a few years from when it was built, what do you think they would say?