Hari-kari for Ha-Ha bowl

Olympic stadium by Zaha Hadid proposed for, now rejected by, Japan. (NYT)

Olympic stadium by Zaha Hadid proposed for, now rejected by, Japan. (NYT)

Zaha “Ha-Ha” Hadid’s design for an Olympic stadium for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo has been controversial since Japan was selected to host the games in 2013. Now Hadid’s proposal has been axed by Japanese officials. You might almost say the design committed hari-kari. But Ha-Ha herself hasn’t been sacked. Yet.

The stadium suicide is suggested by comments by officials in the New York Times article “Japan Scraps Olympic Stadium Plan Over $2 Billion Price Tag,” which also quoted Hadid saying that her plan was just a plain old vanilla envelope for sports – “standard materials and techniques,” quoth her office. Right. That’s why her nickname is what it is.

Last year, after revising her design at the behest of the Japanese, she told Dezeen, an online design mag, that “they don’t want a foreigner to build in Tokyo for a national stadium.” Some Japanese admitted it and were accused of chauvinism, of course, but why shouldn’t Japan want its national stadium to be designed by a Japanese architect?

Just because so few in power and authority in the victimized nations complain about this brutal form of western cultural imperialism doesn’t mean it is not objectionable. Priceless national heritage has been slaughtered by these marauders for decades now. The folks who regularly deplore Columbus have not uttered a peep.

That Japan has junked the design for its extravagant cost may be unprecedented. Who has quailed in the face of mounting budget overruns when the bright, shining reward at the end of the golden rainbow is a starchitectural masterpiece! Pulling the rug out on it before it pulls the rug out on your country is just is not done.

So kudos to the Japanese for their rare good sense. But do not forget that the skyrocketing costs – already breaching $2 billion – are directly related to the design. The Times reports:

Olympic officials say rising costs for labor and materials are responsible for about a third of the increase in the estimated cost. But they attribute more than $600 million of the increase to the design itself, specifically its use of two massive, curved support arches that run the length of the building.

Modern architecture runs over budget regularly because modern architecture is always reinventing the wheel. This stadium is no exception. Modern architects trip over each other not only to avoid “copying” the past but also to avoid copying each other. Building very difficult and complicated structures called buildings by embracing the best practices of architectural predecessors makes abundant sense but in modern architecture is verboten. That is just one reason why modern architecture costs so much, but perhaps the most basic one.

This stadium has been criticized for looking like a bike helmet, a turtle, an oyster and a white elephant. Before its revision it looked like a horseshoe crab. Now it looks like a dinosaur. Let’s hope people take to heart this object lesson on why modern architecture itself deserves to go extinct.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. 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. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and 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 invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, 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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4 Responses to Hari-kari for Ha-Ha bowl

  1. “Modern architecture runs over budget regularly because modern architecture is always reinventing the wheel… Let’s hope people take to heart this object lesson on why modern architecture itself deserves to go extinct.”

    Would you say the same about modern medicine or science?

    Like

    • I would not say that about modern medicine or science. Both fields embrace precedent and a method of advancement based on building upon the knowledge acquired by past practitioners. Modernism explicitly rejects past precedent in architecture and in other artistic fields where taste rather than utility rules. Modernists in practice may nod to precedent but more in mechanics than in design, and then mostly without explicit acknowledgement. Medicine and science are very different in their operation than architecture. I would definitely not say the same about them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. George Ranalli says:

    Got it fine!!!

    On 7/18/15, 11:34 AM, “Architecture Here and There” wrote:

    > David Brussat posted: ” Zaha “Ha-Ha” Hadid’s design for an Olympic stadium for > the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo has been controversial since Japan was selected > to host the games in 2013. Now Hadid’s proposal has been axed by Japanese > officials. You might almost say the design ” >

    Like

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