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Olympics Architect Brings Wood Back to Tokyo's Concrete Jungle

Date: 02-Jun-17
Author: David Rowlinson

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium © David Rowlinson

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium

Article first appeared in Timber and Forestry E-News

Using Japanese lumber for the centre-piece Olympic venue, architect Kengo Kuma wants to restore woods that Tokyo lost half a century ago in the blitz to build highways, bullet trains and skyscrapers to showcase the recovery from wartime devastation. The design stems from his ‘natural architecture’ concept of making buildings part of a landscape.

“I want to go beyond the era of concrete,” Kuma, says. “What people want is soft, warm and humane architecture.” The stadium is modelled on the pagodas of Buddhist temples seen in Japan’s former capitals of Kyoto and Nara. Plants will adorn the eaves so they resemble the woods around the nearby Meiji shrine, a hallowed site dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife.

While the sweeping concrete curves of the Yoyogi National Gymnasium built for 1964 inspired the then 10-year-old Kuma to become an architect, he now sees wood as more representative of contemporary Japan.

Wood evolves as time passes, changing colour and texture – more suitable, he says, for a nation that’s been through two decades of stagnation. “We will show the model of a mature society in the stadium,” he says. “That’s the way to live a happy life relying on limited natural resources from a small land.”

The construction, for which ground was broken in December 2016, is estimated to cost about $US1.4 billion. Kuma plans to use about 2000 cubic metres of locally- produced larch and cedar for the stadium, including wood from regions hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

“We will use cedars from almost every Japanese prefecture in the stadium, and display them in a way that makes visitors understand where they come from,” Kuma says. “I hope they will feel proud of the diversity and richness of Mother Nature.”

Kuma has previously used wood to build the Bato Hiroshige Museum in Nasu, north of Tokyo. “Before 20th century industrialisation, Japanese people knew how to satisfy their needs without wasting resources but by recycling them,” he said.

More exemplar projects using wood


David                                             Rowlinson
Author: David Rowlinson

Make it Wood Program Manager

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