Architect Kengo Kuma proposes a wooden, green structure resembling a traditional Japanese temple as the design for the Olympics stadium in line with the Games’ sustainability theme.

Text by Isabelle Pinto

Design Works and Construction Works of Taisei Corporation,
Azusa Sekkei Co., Ltd. and Kengo Kuma and Associates JV

The Japanese have always been known for their humility and courtesy – values that are deeply ingrained in their Eastern culture. From their various forms of politeness practiced in speech along with various types of bowing, they are indeed known to be some of the humblest societies on Earth. This probably explains the designs of the upcoming Tokyo National Stadium that is currently being built for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The stadium’s latticed, oval facade with an opening in the middle of its roof encased with transparent glass projects a rather simple design – a stark reflection of the Japanese’ simplicity and humility – and yet the design is admirable for the fact that it emphasises on sustainability, a theme that is to be incorporated in all aspects of the highly-anticipated games. Material-wise, the stadium is made up of mostly wood and steel and is designed to resemble traditional Japanese temples.

The use of wood in architecture is said to be more sustainable compared to concrete and steel, and is, as of late, a growing trend for many new high-rises around Europe. Famed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma who proposed the design is indeed no stranger when it comes to using natural materials in architecture and therefore, seems to be the right candidate to take on this green-themed stadium design. According to him, using wood does not only promote sustainability; it would also provide a sense of warmth, ease and comfort amongst occupants within the building.

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Planned to be built at a relatively short height of 49 meters within Tokyo’s leafy Meiji Jingu Shrine area, the height of the stadium was said to be deliberate so as to fit in with its surroundings. The stadium concept was also made to blend in well with its surroundings by the extensive use of greenery throughout its façade considering its location within a very important green zone in the city of Tokyo.


Among the greenery, many trees are planted within the eaves of the stadium building which clearly reflects elements of traditional Japanese architecture, and this is exactly what Kengo and his team admittedly strived for – incorporating traditional Japanese architecture into the design. That being said, this is probably one of the key factors Kengo’s design outshone fellow Japanese architect Toyo Ito’s stadium design as “Japanese-ness” was indeed a main consideration in choosing the winning design.

The plants used for the stadium would be indigenous to Tokyo – care was also taken to ensure that low maintenance trees and plants are used so that the stadium could be easily maintained. Solar panels fixed on the glass roof of the stadium would generate the electricity required to power the water supply system for the plants and greenery.

The stadium was also designed in such a way that natural wind can be utilized as much as possible to ventilate the building instead of relying on air-conditioning facilities. This aspect too was made possible by applying elements of traditional Japanese architecture, says Kengo.

Another interesting point to note would be the stadium’s recreational area located at one of its top levels which would be open to the public every day and can be accessed directly from outside the stadium. This area would contain a 850-meter walkway whereby citizens can indulge in recreation such as jogging, running, going for a stroll or just sitting on the bench and admiring the scenes of Tokyo below. Very often huge stadiums, especially those designed for the Olympics, tend to be abandoned right after the Games due to lack of use. So, with the public recreational area incorporated within the stadium, Kengo hopes to keep the stadium alive and active long after the Olympics is over.

Due to be completed by 2019, the ¥155 billion structure can accommodate 80,000 people.


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