The Japan National Stadium: Between Architectural Bigness and Urban Smallness | The Plan Journal

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Aya Jazaierly
Andrea Canclini

In 2012, Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) was announced winner for the competition to design the Japan National Stadium, the main venue for the 2020 Olympics. Over the years, the project faced a range of controversy that ended with the scrapping of ZHA’s proposal in 2015, and the adoption of a non-iconic stadium designed by Kengo Kuma, one that is more integrated with its context. The critique against ZHA’s project involved Japanese architects led by Fumihiko Maki; it stemmed from the urban consequences such an architectural object would have, bringing the protagonists into conflict at the very intersection of their nature as architects and urban planners. This paper aims to analyze the reasons behind this controversy, which lies within the theoretical debate between a phenomenological approach on one hand and the autonomy of design on the other. Despite her established status as an archistar, Hadid’s proposal seemed to suffer the side effects of Koolhaasian “bigness”; the heritage discipline of preserving the built and natural environment of the neighborhood suddenly became a matter such an important structure had to deal with.