Japan sport chiefs green light huge stadium

TOKYO - Japanese sports chiefs on Wednesday gave the green light to a new $1.6 billion stadium for the 2020 Olympics, all but dashing the hopes of campaigners who say the building and its price tag, are too big.

The government-affiliated Japan Sport Council, which will run the 160 billion yen new National Stadium, decided to trim the height of the structure to 70 metres (230 feet) from the original 75 metres to appease concerns it would be a blight on the Tokyo skyline. The basic design of the 80,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof, originally conceived by prize-winning Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid and shaped like a bike helmet, was rubber-stamped by the council and a panel of advisers.

Drawn by a group of design houses, it will be made final on approval from the ministry in charge of sports administration. The structure is set to be built on the site of the 56-year-old, 54,000-seat National Stadium, which will be dismantled over 15 months beginning in July. The new stadium is set to be completed in time for the rugby World Cup, which Japan hosts in 2019, a year ahead of the Summer Games.

Hadid's design was chosen in an international competition in November 2012. She had previously designed the London Aquatics Centre used in the 2012 Games. She also designed the controversial Al-Wakrah stadium in Qatar, which will be used in the 2022 World Cup. The Tokyo stadium will be built in an area with numerous parks and a grand Shinto shrine, and will tower over most of the structures around it, with building heights historically limited to 15 metres.

That limit was raised by Tokyo Metropolitan Government to 75 metres in June last year. Hadid's design has come under fire from Japanese architects led by Fumihiko Maki, 85, the creative brains behind one of the new towers for the World Trade Center complex in New York. Criticism grew when Japan's minister in charge of the Olympics estimated the stadium would cost about 300 billion yen ($3 billion), more than double the 130 billion yen that was originally stipulated in the design competition.

The estimated cost has since been reduced to 160 billion yen, including by scaling down the stadium's floor space. Critics have scoffed at the sudden price cut, and suggest the final bill will be much higher. Japanese architect Toyoo Ito, who won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize like Hadid unveiled an alternate design this month that would renovate the old stadium, which hosted the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, by expanding its main stand. The Japan Institute of Architects also sent a proposal that the work to dismantle the old stadium should be postponed amid conflicting views over the basic design.

"By lowering the height from 75 to 70 metres, we think the design has become great in terms of landscape," said Ichiro Kohno, president of the sport council. He said the council will thoroughly explain the merits of the project to critics but it would "not change the fundamentals".

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