The Turmoil Over Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium Just Got Even Worse

Overdue payments. Copyright disputes. And what Zaha Hadid Architects call a “remarkable” similarity to their original design.

The Turmoil Over Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium Just Got Even Worse
[Image: Zara Hadid Architects]

It’s been months since Zaha Hadid Architects’ design for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Stadium was abandoned due to budget and contract problems, but the debacle isn’t over yet.


The architects confirmed to Co.Design that the Japan Sport Council–the organization behind the project–is withholding overdue payments for the old design until the architects relinquish the design copyright, following a report from an anonymous source to The Telegraph. Another contingency of payment? That designers involved in the bid not speak about the project.

Image: Zara Hadid Architects

“Since October, we have been seeking to finalize an outstanding payment with the JSC, which is for months of work carried out by a team of more than one hundred architects and engineers in Japan and the UK working for ZHA and many other companies,” the firm commented over email. In early January, JSC sent the firm a request to modify its contract to transfer the copyright “and detailed design” of the stadium over to the council and prevent designers on the project from speaking about it. Hadid’s firm has declined the request for a gag order, and stridently rejects the idea of turning over the copyright.

So why, you might be asking yourself, is a long-abandoned design for a building that won’t be built stirring up such contention? Because according to the architects, the new design for the stadium, a proposal by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma announced in December, is “remarkably” similar to their abandoned design.

Stadium design by Kengo KumaImage: via Dezeen

“Much of our two years of detailed design work and the cost savings we recommended have been validated by the remarkable similarities of our original detailed stadium layout and our seating bowl configuration with those of the design announced today,” the firm wrote in a public statement last month and fact sheet responding to the new design, noting that two of the companies involved with Hadid’s project, Azusa Sekkei and Taisei, are working on the new stadium’s design as well.

Zaha Hadid Architects also points to various budget-cutting design changes it had originally suggested, like slashing the number of seats to 68,000, doing away with the proposed air-conditioning system, and cutting back on extra amenities like a track, museum, and gym. “When ZHA proposed these changes they were rejected by the client and the team was eventually instructed to cease proposing cost-saving solutions. However, all these cost-saving solutions were adopted in the brief of the new competition.”

Meanwhile, Kuma has responded to Hadid’s claims, saying that if the two designs are at all alike, it’s because of the competition brief. “Any similarities in terms of the seating arrangements and the angles are a result of the conditions of the project,” he said last week, according to Bloomberg.


Without a side-by-side comparison of the two designs’ detailed plans, it’s hard to know how similar their structures truly are. For now, the architects are hoping for an easy fix, saying, “we hope that these matters can be quickly resolved.” While Japan Sport Council has not yet returned a request for comment, we’ll update this post as more information becomes available.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.