Five design controversies that rocked the Tokyo Olympics


The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were successful despite a series of controversies ahead, including accusations of plagiarism and greenwashing. Here are five architecture and design scandals that threatened to derail the games.



Zaha Hadid’s Olympic stadium razed to the ground

Perhaps the biggest controversy in the run-up to the games has been the hiring and firing of architect Zaha Hadid as the architect of the Olympic stadium.

Zaha Hadid Architects won the competition to design the stadium in 2012. However, the proposed design (top and top) has been criticized by a group of prominent Japanese architects including Fumihiko Maki, Toyo Ito, Sou Fujimoto and Kengo Kuma because of his scale.

Hadid called these architects “hypocrites”. “They don’t want a foreigner to build a national stadium in Tokyo,” Hadid told Dezeen at the time. “On the other hand, they all have jobs abroad.

Following criticism and a budget cut, Zaha Hadid Architects submitted a scaled-down “refined” stadium proposal in 2014.

Despite the redesign, the controversial stadium was scrapped in 2015, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying he had listened to “the voice of the people” and decided to “start from scratch” with the stadium.

A new competition was launched with designs by Kuma and Ito, both of whom criticized Hadid’s original stage chosen as the two finalists. Kuma’s design was chosen as the eventual winner.


Tokyo 2020 Olympic Logo by Kenjiro Sano

Olympic logo plagiarism claims

The original logos for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics also proved controversial and, like the stadium, were eventually removed.

The designs by Japanese graphic designer Kenjiro Sano (above) were unveiled by event organizers in 2015, but were quickly embroiled in scandal after Belgian designer Olivier Debie accused Sano of copying his logo for the Liège Theater.

Although Sano insisted there was “absolutely no truth” in the claims, the plagiarism allegations and a lawsuit led organizers to remove the design.

A public competition was launched to find a replacement logo, which Japanese artist Asao Tokolo won with a pair of checkerboard patterns.


Portrait of Kengo Kuma

Kengo Kuma accused of plagiarism

After his victory in the competition to replace the controversial Hadid stadium, Kuma was accused of plagiarizing the original design.

According to Hadid, the new stadium had “remarkable similarities” to its own proposal with a similar shape and layout.

“In fact, much of our two years of detailed design work and the cost savings we recommended was validated by the remarkable similarities of our original detailed stadium layout and bowl configuration to those of the design announced today, ”she said.

However, Kuma refuted the claims, telling the Japan Times, “I think if you take a look at Zaha Hadid’s design and mine, you can see very different impressions of the building. “


Kengo Kuma Olympic Stadium in Tokyo 2020

Stage linked to deforestation

Much has been done of the use of wood in the roof and cladding of the 68,000-seat Kengo Kuma Japanese National Stadium, which was built to host sporting events as well as the opening and closing ceremonies.

However, the Japanese government has been criticized for the wood used as a mold for the concrete structure. A survey by more than 40 charities found that the tropical hardwood used was linked to deforestation and human rights violations.

A petition signed by more than 140,000 people called on the government to rethink its use of tropical hardwood in the stadium.

“The Olympics are meant to be about ‘fair play’ and ‘the youth of the world coming together’. In reality, the human rights of the indigenous peoples of Sarawak and the environment are threatened by the Olympics,” said Mathias Rittgerott of the charity. Rainforest rescue, who delivered the petition to Germany.

“The use of tropical wood from Sarawak on Olympic sites is not to be celebrated,” she added.


Tokyo Olympic Stadium seen from above

Sustainability efforts labeled “greenwashing”

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics aimed to be the greenest in recent history, with a host of initiatives ranging from recycled cardboard beds to donated plastic podiums designed to help the games progress “towards zero carbon.”

According to the organizers, these are the first Olympic Games to be carbon neutral and entirely powered by renewable energies. However, a peer-reviewed study conducted by the University of Lausanne found that the Tokyo event is the third of the least sustainable Olympics since 1992.

“The majority of the measures that have been included in these Olympic Games in particular, and those which have been particularly publicized, have a more or less superficial effect,” said co-author of the report, David Gogishvili.

“The efforts made by the International Olympic Committee are important, but they are limited and insufficient. From my perspective, unless they severely limit the build aspect and the overall size of the event, they will always be criticized for greenwashing.


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