June 24, 2015 / 10:14 AM / 2 years ago

No decision yet on Japan stadium, but original design in lead

4 Min Read

TOKYO (Reuters) - No final decision has been made on Japan's new National Stadium, the centrepiece for the 2020 Summer Olympics, but with an alternate plan judged "unrealistic" there are still no reasons to abandon the original design, an official said on Wednesday.

Construction of the new National Stadium has run into numerous problems, including sky rocketing costs and demolition delays that have prompted speculation it might not be finished in time, as well as feuding over who will pay what for it.

Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura, who also holds the sports portfolio, hinted earlier this week that he might "consider" an alternative design to the one by architect Zaha Hadid, which has been criticized for its high cost and an ultra-modern design unsuited to the area around it.

The new proposal, by a group headed by Pritzger Prize-winning Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, recommended a simple, doughnut-shaped stadium without a roof to replace Hadid's futuristic design with two huge main arches, which resembles a space ship or, critics say, a bicycle helmet.

But Japanese media reports on Wednesday said a decision had been made to go with Hadid's design, albeit slightly modified -- and that the cost would surge to 250 billion yen ($2 billion), nearly twice the cost cited when it was chosen in an international contest as part of Tokyo's Olympic bid.

An official at Japan's Education Ministry said that a final decision had yet to be made, although he had heard that one was likely by the start of July.

"We'd heard about the other proposal, but it's not realistic and we think it would be hard to do," the official said.

"Unless it's a proposal we can really get behind, cancelling Zaha's design for another one is not something we can do."

He added that the cost as well remained "under consideration."

Hadid's original design was already modified once last year to cut costs, and an official at the Japan Sport Council, which runs the stadium, said they were still working towards this design, although a final decision by the Education Ministry could change things.

"The design has been modified slightly from the very first plan, but we are still working with the concept of the original design," the official said.

Though the Olympics are not until July 2020, the stadium is also set to be used for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which begins almost a year earlier. Hadid designed the aquatics center for the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

The soaring costs have prompted several downsizing proposals, including postponing the installation of a retractable roof until after the Games and making a number of stadium seats temporary, which media reports suggest are both gaining strength.

In May, Tokyo governor Yoichi Masuzoe lashed out at being asked to foot $400 million of the stadium cost without further details of plans and how the money will be spent, calling the expense "ridiculous."

The Games were won under his predecessor, who was forced to quit due to a bribery scandal.

Masuzoe and Shimomura have remained at odds over the issue and officials in the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee took veiled swipes at Masuzoe several weeks ago, noting that Tokyo had pushed for bidding for the Olympics and Masuzoe knew this when he was running for election.

Editing by Sudipto Ganguly

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