More Zaha stadium flap

Latest version of proposed Tokyo Olympic stadium by Zaha Hadid. (Guardian)

Latest version of proposed Tokyo Olympic stadium by Zaha Hadid. (Guardian)

Please don’t misinterpret these remarks as in any sense a defense of Zaha Hadid. Her proposed 2020 Olympic stadium in Tokyo has been mired in controversy and budget cuts, and  now one of Japan’s leading architects, Arato Isozaki, has sent a letter to Japanese sports authorities denouncing it as “a turtle waiting for Japan to sink so it can swim away.”

The Guardian critic Oliver Wainwright mulls the situation in this essay.

I’ve looked at Isozaki’s work, on his web site, and he is in no position to criticize Zaha Hadid. While not as ridiculous, his buildings are modernist. Just as a Pritzker jury has no rational grounding in principle to prefer one modernist architect over another, no modernist architect has any rational grounds to criticize another. Isozaki criticizes Hadid’s stadium design as a “turtle,” “a monumental mistake” and “a disgrace to future generations.” Each of those criticisms are in my opinion valid, indeed they are a belaboring of the obvious, but coming from Isozaki they ring simultaneously hollow and arrogant.

What Isozaki is really saying is, why shouldn’t Japan’s Olympic stadium be built by an architect from Japan? A good question, but instead of his fatuous critique he should pose that question to the recipients of his angry letter – the leading Japanese sports authorities. You cannot blame Zaha Hadid for being Zaha Hadid when every motivation in architecture today is for powerful practitioners to seek the invitation of foreign countries to destroy priceless historic treasures. So that’s what they do, all of them, laughing all the way to the bank.

Writes Wainwright: “The London-based, Iraqi-born architect says the scheme is the result of ‘three decades of research into Japanese architecture and urbanism,’ and promises it will be an ‘integral element of Tokyo’s urban fabric, directly engaging with the surrounding cityscape’ ”

God! What total and unadulterated balderdash!

In Japan’s case, as in many other nations, the damage has already been done. The architecture of Zaha Hadid is deplorable in the extreme, but no more a cancer on the culture of every nation than the work of any other modern architect. Far more deplorable are the national and civic leaders who compete to see who can inflict the most pain on their nation’s cultures, and at the highest price.

At least Japan is cutting Zaha’s budget to shreds. Value engineering has indeed turned the latest version of the stadium into something like a turtle – a turtle on qaaludes rather than a turtle on acid as originally proposed. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and all of it would be comical  if it were not so cosmically sad.

Original version of Hadid's stadium in Tokyo. (Guardian)

Original version of Hadid’s stadium in Tokyo. (Guardian)


About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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