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Kengo Kuma denies plagiarism claims in design of National Stadium

Kengo Kuma at the FCCJ
Kengo Kuma at the FCCJ (Sarai Flores)

TOKYO (TR) – Following claims that his design for the National Stadium for the 2020 Olympic Games contained “similarities” to that originally proposed by Zaha Hadid Architects, renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma denied such speculation in Tokyo on Friday.

“There are some technical similarities in the design. However, in the design aspects of the stadium, I would like to say there are no similarities,” Kuma said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “When we consider that the design is being created on the same land and under the same laws it is natural or almost automatic, in a way, that there are certain similarities which will arise.”

The originally selected design by ZHA, the London-based firm headed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, was a key element in Tokyo’s bid submission for the Games in 2013. However, the design, consisting of a saddle-shaped roof, was scrapped last July after the cost of the project was significantly revised upward.

In a redesign competition held late last year, Kuma’s design, as submitted by construction company Taisei and planning firm Asusa Sekkei as a joint venture, was chosen as the winner. The flat-shaped design features an oval stadium of multiple tiers separated by greenery.

After the selection, ZHA slammed the choice, saying that concepts for the seating design and other elements were copied.

“Much of our two years of detailed design work and the cost savings we recommended have been validated by the remarkable similarities of our original detailed stadium layout and our seating bowl configuration with those of the design,” ZHA said.

Kuma cited fire prevention regulations of the Tokyo government as the reason for why the layout of the stadium may seem similar.

Kuma said that his firm received an invitation from Taisei to join the second competition after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided against using Hadid’s design. He was reluctant to enter the competition the first time around.

“The conditions that were placed at the beginning of the entrance were very strict, actually, and these included that the architect must have been a previous awardee of the Pritzker Prize, which is not something I have received. So, in looking at these conditions and so on, I thought this competition is not for me and I did not enter.”

After Kuma was approached by Taisei, he was surprised. “This was not something that I was expecting at all, and I was very surprised to receive the invitation from Taisei,” he said. “However, I feel it is very much an honor and I will be putting all my time and dedication into working towards this project.”

Kuma said that one key to his design of the stadium will be the view afforded by audience members.

“Our design utilizes three layers within its structure and this is actually for the purpose of ensuring, on the scale of an 80,000-person stadium, that the audience will feel as close as possible to the athletes.”

It is estimated that Kuma’s design will cost 149 billion yen to build, a figure significantly less than the 252-billion-yen revised price tag for ZHA’s design.

Kuma says that he hopes the design for his building will be as impressive as the National Stadium used for the 1964 Olympic Games, the stadium that inspired him to become an architect when he was 10 years old. The new stadium will be constructed on the same land.

“I remember, at that time, visiting it with my father and being so impressed at the structure that it actually made me decide that I wanted to become an architect,” he said.