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Japan architect calls for 2020 Olympic stadium cost cuts

Thursday, July 16, 2015 - 15:52

[TOKYO] An award-winning Japanese architect on Thursday called on officials to rein in spiralling costs for Tokyo's 2020 Olympic stadium which put it on track to become the world's most expensive sporting showpiece.

Construction costs have ballooned by nearly twice the original budget to 252 billion yen, sparking an uproar over the price tag for a project that was already lambasted by some critics for its futuristic look.

Osaka-born architect Tadao Ando, who chaired the committee that chose Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid's design in 2012, added his voice to mounting questions about the soaring stadium bill, as Japanese media reported Thursday that officials may overhaul the plan.

The costs also set off a funding feud between Tokyo and the national government.

"I was shocked to hear it would now cost 252 billion yen - really?" Mr Ando told reporters on Thursday.

"We have to adjust this...But we can't abandon Zaha. If we do, we'll lose international trust in Japan," he added.

The current price tag would put Tokyo well beyond the US$1.6 billion cost for the MetLife stadium in New Jersey, which hosts the New Jets and Giants football teams, and about US$680 million spent on the stadium for London's 2012 Olympics. Beijing's 2008 "Bird's Nest" stadium cost US$455 million.

Tokyo's planned venue has faced years of widespread criticism, with some prominent Japanese architects deriding it as an eyesore in one of the few green spaces in the capital.

Critics claim that two giant arches which run the length of the stadium are to blame for much of the inflated cost of the building.

Local media said on Thursday the government may adjust that part of the design, or extend the construction period to cut costs.

A sales tax hike last year along with rising labour and construction materials costs have also been blamed for sending expenses skyward.

Mr Ando suggested that contractors should be wary of the cost.

"I think the contractors should solve this problem even if they have to ignore their profitability for the sake of the Japanese public," he said.

Last month, organisers said construction was set to begin in October with May 2019 the projected completion date - two months later than initially planned and just in time for the rugby World Cup.

Officials have already adjusted the design in an attempt to cut costs and eliminate aspects of the design that are difficult to realise.

A planned retractable roof will be added after the Olympics and Paralympics, while the number of permanent seats will be reduced from 80,000 to 65,000 after the Games. It is being built on site of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics centrepiece.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose popularity has been falling over security bills aimed at boosting the role of the military, has started reviewing the plan, the top-selling Yomiuri and Asahi newspapers reported.

More than 80 percent of voters think the stadium plan should be reviewed, a recent opinion poll by the Yomiuri showed, while an Asahi-sponsored poll showed more than 70 per cent were opposed to the current blueprint.

Abe will make a final decision after consulting with his ministers and meeting with former prime minister and chairman of the Tokyo Olympics organising committee Yoshiro Mori, the reports said.

"We have to be creative on this so that it doesn't create a burden for the public," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday.

AFP