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Editorial: Keep costs, landscape in mind with new Olympic stadium project

A fresh plan for the new National Stadium -- the main venue for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics -- has been selected after the costly original design was scrapped. Under the plan, the stadium will be built to keep it in harmony with the lush greenery of the surrounding Meiji Jingu Gaien garden. The new stadium project is finally under way.

    A panel of Cabinet ministers concerned has approved the Japan Sport Council (JSC)'s selection of the proposal by architect Kengo Kuma and a joint venture led by Taisei Corp. The decision was made after a screening process that prioritized reducing expenses and shortening the construction period.

    The new stadium will feature three-tier stands to make it easier for spectators to view games, and its roof will be made of both steel and wood. Its eaves are inspired by balks on the five-story pagoda of Horyuji Temple in Nara Prefecture to add Japanese flavor to the structure. It is hoped that the stadium will chime with the Meiji Jingu Gaien garden, a designated scenic zone.

    The construction cost is estimated at 149 billion yen, with work scheduled to start in December 2016 and be completed in late November 2019. The completion must not be delayed as time is needed to hold some sporting events as practice runs for the Olympics and Paralympics. The JSC should regularly announce the progress on the construction work to rebuild the public's confidence in the project.

    The compilation of the scrapped plan, which came under fire as its estimated cost soared past 250 billion yen, reflected the opinions of an expert panel set up by the JSC. The panel, which includes a former prime minister and top officials of various sports associations, was a venue for lobbying. As such, the previous planned stadium would have caused various problems, including those involving lawn growing and a huge amount of cost for maintenance.

    In the latest design screening, the JSC set up a technical proposal screening committee to evaluate nine items of designs on a six-point scale. The JSC selected the plan by Kuma after exchanging opinions with prominent figures in the sports community as well as reading opinions that members of the general public had submitted to the council's website. It is only natural that the JSC tried its utmost to ensure transparency and fairness in the screening process based on lessons learned from the old plan's selection.

    Under the scrapped design, the new stadium would have risen 75 meters high, more than twice the height of the old, 30-meter-tall National Stadium. Some architects criticized the plan saying that such a high-rise structure "would just look like a huge concrete chunk." Under the design by Kuma, the stadium will stand 49.2 meters tall. The plan should be appreciated in that it makes the stadium look less intimidating.

    Like the cancelled plan, however, concerns remain as to whether sufficient funds can be secured for construction. About half of the 158.1 billion yen total cost -- including to develop surrounding areas -- or 79.1 billion yen will be footed by the national government. The remainder is expected to be covered evenly by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and through the sports promotion lottery known as "toto." Concerns remain that the construction costs will rely excessively on toto, whose sales fluctuate from year to year. Moreover, the total cost could increase due to possible rises in commodity prices and personnel expenses.

    Since the 149 billion yen cost is still enormous, the government and the JSC should go ahead with the construction while being fully cost-conscious.

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