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Designer of Tokyo Olympic stadium hopes to use timber from disaster-hit areas in construction

Architect Kengo Kuma (Mainichi)

Architect Kengo Kuma, the designer of a new national stadium that will serve as the main venue for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics, says he wants to use timber from areas hit by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in construction of the venue.

    In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, Kuma, 61, indicated that he would stand by the idea of having the Olympics aid restoration of areas hit by the disasters.

    "Through wood, we are able to link the Olympics and restoration," he said.

    A characteristic of the design is the stadium's horizontally aligned eaves, inspired by balks on the five-story pagoda of Horyuji Temple in Nara Prefecture. Kuma says that the Miyagi Prefecture town of Minamisanriku, which suffered major tsunami damage, is a producer of quality cedar.

    Kuma stressed a difference between his design and an earlier one by Iraq-born architect Zaha Hadid, which was discarded over the high cost. "She didn't have the reality of a restorative Olympics, but I do," Kuma said.

    The former design was criticized for not fitting in with the natural landscape of the neighboring Meiji Jingu Gaien park area. Kuma, who has competed with Hadid in overseas competitions, said, "In contrast with me, she's a genius who makes structures that have an impact. With her on the scene, I've seen in my own way what I should do."

    In designing the new stadium, Kuma says he took note of the surroundings. "With the old national stadium, it was like there was the darkness of a huge concrete structure, and it was scary. I think having a park with a familiar touch will serve as a large message for Tokyo," he said.

    Regarding claims that the layout and seating structure of his design is similar to Hadid's design, Kuma said, "To find a solution that is economical and rational in terms of evacuation distances, the form ends up the same."

    While Hadid's large design stood 70 meters tall, Kuma kept his below 50 meters, taking harmony with the environment into consideration.

    "The fundamental spirit of it is different," he said.

    With the old design, Kuma said, "There's a strong idea of creating a monument. The seating is high, and there's a tendency toward modulation and adding vertical aspects. What I aimed for was the opposite of a monument. It is horizontal and low."

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