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Tokyo National Stadium designer Kuma finds positive side of Olympics postponement

2020-07-22 15:02:00 Xinhuanet

By Wang Zijiang and Guo Dan

TOKYO, July 22 (Xinhua) -- Kengo Kuma should be sitting in the New National Stadium Friday night watching the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

It is a long-awaited, and perhaps the proudest, moment of his career as an architect. The stadium is his design.

But the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world and everything was turned upside down. The Olympic Games were forced to be pushed back by one year and, because the virus is still far from being contained, it might even never take place.

"Nobody can say anything about the future of the coronavirus," said Kuma, who turns 66 in August. "Anyway, the stadium has been completed and also the theme of the stadium is nature and environment. That's enough."

Oriental philosophy believes in letting nature take its course and that can explain why Kuma, one of the greatest contemporary architects, has treated the pandemic so calmly.

"The good thing for the one year delay of the Olympics is the green aspect. The stadium is covered by vegetation. Every month, the green grows. It's good for the stadium," Kuma told Xinhua at his office close to the stadium.

Even during Japan's 42-day state of emergency, Kuma arrived at the office almost every day before 7 am, checking some samples before conducting and attending online meetings.

His home is situated behind the stadium and every day he walks past the giant building, which features slatted-wood cladding on the exterior and three levels of walkways lined with planters. The stadium was opened to the public last December but has since been fenced off since the Games will not be opened until July 23, 2021.

Several of the opening ceremony directors are Kuma's friends but they have not discussed the proceedings with him. He expects the opening ceremony will be a "calm, natural and peaceful one," which fits his design.

"The stadium is very natural," he said. "The interior, roof and seat of the stadium is very different from a normal stadium. We use wood for the roof. The color of the seats comes from the color of leaves in the forest."

And most importantly, he said, "That kind of ceremony will fit the atmosphere after the coronavirus."

Kuma, who had wanted to be a veterinarian, was inspired to be an architect when he was 10 after his father took him to the iconic Yoyogi Gymnasium at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which was designed by fellow Japanese architect Kenzo Tange.

"I was so shocked," he recalled. "It was amazingly beautiful and very different from other buildings in 1964. On that day, I decided to become an architect. That was a special day."

That was more than half a century ago. Most buildings in Tokyo were very low and the city was largely populated by small houses, only to be replaced with skyscrapers and towers.

"In 1964, for a boy, a concrete building looked very fantastic, but gradually I began to be disappointed with the concrete buildings. I prefer living in a wooden house and being intimate with little streets. I want to go back to a city like the Tokyo before 1964."

He said that the Olympic Stadium will prove a "turning point" of architectural design because the most important theme in the world in the 21st century is "the environment." The COVID-19 pandemic will finally draw the curtain on the time of the skyscraper.

"People began to understand that a big concrete box is not so necessary," he said. "Our design for the stadium is a kind of model of a new age. At the beginning of the 20th century, America built skyscrapers and people should work in that space. People had no freedom. But with new technology, we can work anywhere in the world. Then we should redesign the city to fit the new working style. The coronavirus is a big chance for us."

Tokyo 2020 organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said next year's Olympics will showcase the "victory" of human beings over the pandemic. But Kuma said the victory also has two sides.

"We can show the victory, but a new type of victory. We should live with the virus. Because of global warming, many new viruses have come to attack us. The victory is a kind of coexistence. A harmony with nature should be the theme of that kind of victory." Enditem

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