Jim Heverin of Zaha Hadid Architects reflects on the events surrounding the scrapping of the practice’s Tokyo Stadium designs
The decision in July [to cancel our project] was a complete shock - and the name that ended up in every headline across the world was ours. That was not right nor fair. And it wasn’t a fair reflection of how we worked.
We subsequently wrote to the politicians saying that this and that they should meet with us and discuss the issue of price and the best way to achieve a lower price.
We had been telling the client for the last two years that they needed to change their brief and to anticipate there was going to be massive inflation and that they were going to have limited competition [from the contractors for the work] and they needed to engage with the market so that everybody could work transparently as a single team to achieve a target cost they were happy with.
We’d been [consistently] saying this to the client because we had more experience [on projects like this] than them. Indeed we had more experience than anybody in Japan on the process of two stage tenders.
We had done projections on this basis for three projects in the UK and we know how difficult this is - how it gives the contractor an opportunity to evaluate risk and increase the price – while it is quite difficult to get the contractor to engage and achieve the budget.
But you’ve got no hope unless everything is transparent and the client is willing to change their brief.
We were willing to change the design
We as designers were willing to change [the design] to achieve a satisfactory outcome for everybody.
That didn’t happen. And in the end the [final] price was that submitted by the contractor and signed off a week before [the cancellation] by the prime minister. He had been fully engaged in this process for months before hand.
Without any thought he caused us significant reputational damage. But we had been advising him for two years to rework the design.
It was clearly a political decision. It didn’t involve the wider stakeholders - such as the sports organisations or the Japan Sport Council [JSC].
It came at the highest political level. One wonders how they got such confidence to make such a [radical] decision.
Of course it is speculation but it is a very unusual decision for a politician to stake their reputation on such a key decision to a key construction project.
You can only do that with certain amount of confidence that somebody has given you. One of the ministers involved in the decision said in the press he had been talking to people that gave him such confidence.
The Japanese authorities should be more transparent
They should be more transparent about that. At the end of the day they say this to save the taxpayers money but really, are they saving the taxpayers money?
Will the taxpayers get value for money? We certainly don’t believe so.
Zaha Hadid Architects’ reworked designs for the Tokyo National Stadium
There is an ulterior motive for a contractor to lead the design. It is quite different to when a consultant develops a design. That guarantees the client/taxpayer gets value for money.
It’s not all about those things you can quantify – the time the price. But there has to be a quality aspect to this. If this is to be a truly sustainable development then it needs to work in legacy - be multi-purpose and needs to be a quality build.
We are getting a short-term solution
That’s what we fear the most. What we are getting here is a short-term solution that works for the Olympics in 2020 but will not work well for the next 50-100 years.
You can do a design for the context without coming from that context or that culture. Because where does that stop?
Does it mean Tadao Ando because he is not from Tokyo could not design for Tokyo. It doesn’t reflect reality.
It is perfectly feasible that a British firm can have an appreciation and an understanding of Japanese architectural culture and can interpret it to provide a valid solution as much as a Japanese architect. And vice versa.
Here our heart was in the right place. We really developed a design thinking about the context, scale and materiality and how the stadium could be used not only for sports events. We also tackled the issues of what happens on the majority of days and how it contributes to the city.
We were very conscious of this, so we introduced the skywalk so this is part of the daily walk/run that people have in this area.
And I’m sorry, I totally disagree with Maki – this area is not a sacred hinterland. This has changed now. It is 100 years later. This is now a sports hub where people play baseball and run and walk.
And the stadium was the original location for the 1964 Games stadium and we tapped into all of that to come up with a design that was contextual. Both in touch and feel - and how it is used.
The fact that we were chosen by a Japanese jury led by Tadao Ando; that [the scheme] worked; that we went to Tokyo; that we worked with our Japanese colleagues for more than three years meant that we were fully aware of what it means to be Japanese.
Jim Heverin is a director at Zaha Hadid Architects