Tomohiro Kimura(Executive Vice President)/Masaki Nakayama(Principal Architect) / Arata Okabe(Architectural Department)

Historical challenge for dynamic design that provides sense of unity in 1964 Tokyo Olympics venue

Endeavor to link the experience of athletes and spectators.

If the epoch-making Tokyo Olympics propelled postwar Japan into its period of high growth, Yoyogi National Gymnasium remains a testament to its triumphs. Executive Vice President Tomohiro Kimura says, “In the design, Kenzo Tange placed importance on dynamism, of course, but more than that, he prioritized creating a building the provided a sense of unity. He believed that unifying athletes’ performances and spectators’ support would result in the creation of a grand space suitable for the event. When considering the kind of building that would achieve that, Kenzo Tange’s conclusion was that it should be a space that enveloped the athletes and spectators as one without pillars as visual obstacles. When the Olympics are held, thousands, or tens of thousands of people, come and go in and out of a venue. By staggering the location of entrances and exits in the building, we could facilitate the flow and achieve smooth movement.”

Record-breaking, unprecedented challenge to create a suspension roof structure.

A sense of unity develops the moment that athletes and spectators share passion inspired by the athlete’s performance. In a building that seeks to promote a sense of unity, anything that stands in the way becomes an obstacle to achievement of that aim. Kimura continues, “Kenzo Tange believed that the existence of pillars would obstruct the link between the athletes and specatators, so the response that he came up with was to design a roof with a cable structure. Suspending the roof by tension to achieve a large space. This system was typically used for bridges, but no one had ever attempted to use a suspension structure over such a large space in a building. Kenzo Tange was fully motivated, but for the staff at the time, it was a first, and they said it was a challenge that required a fair amount of courage.”

Overcoming a short construction schedule
with a sense of unity.

Of course, it was a challenge to construct a building with no example anywhere in the world. However, this was not the reason that the team considered it a challenge that required courage. The reality of the situation was that the construction schedule was only 18 months. Kimura says the following about that time: “It was a schedule that we would never be able to achieve today. However, it became apparent to Kenzo Tange that this was the only solution. It is said that our team and the construction company staff worked hardly sparing time for sleep.”

Kimura continues, “This was true to the extent that, on New Year’s Eve that year, the TV program Yukutoshi Kurutoshi (The Old Year and the New Year) which is shown after the traditional Kohaku Utagassen singing competition, reported that the stadium construction site was the only place where people were still working. I have also heard that they faced numerous problems during construction that they had never faced before. I think that Kenzo Tange as well as the team and the people from the construction company must have confronted these obstacles with the strong conviction that they had to make the Tokyo Olympics a success. Their strong teamwork and enthusiasm united everyone in purpose from the early planning and design stages through construction and completion.”

Considering completion to be a beginning rather than an end.

Kimura says, “It is a big mistake to think that architecture is something that is finished once a building is completed. Just as humans require maintenance as they age, it is important to regularly maintain buildings so that they are long-lasting.” He says that, for Tange Associates, which has built several historical buildings, there are now many opportunities to be involved in plans for preservation or redevelopment of older buildings. “Repairs include seismic retrofit, update of function, and repairs to interior and exterior deterioration. We have also conducted large-scale repair at Yoyogi National Gymnasium, including painting the entire roof and exterior repairs, refurbishment for accessibility, and improvements in earthquake resistance. The original pavement at Yoyogi National Gymnasium was cobblestone and had an uneven surface. At the time, not much consideration was given to accessibility. However, things are different now. A special lane made of even stone was created for wheelchair users. We replaced each stone, grinding it down to be flat. It is delicate work: if the stones are ground too much, the texture is damaged. So we ground them carefully to preserve the effect that Kenzo Tange intended. As symbolized by this cobblestone pavement, Tange Associates believes that it is important to not only restore the building to its original state as intended by Kenzo Tange but also to think about the building’s value and to create living architecture that can continue to be used into the future. For Tange Associates, the completion of a building is not the end; it is the start of work to maintain it and pass it on to future generations. This is precisely the process of passing on TANGE DNA to future generations. This is the meaning of TANGE DNA+.”

A venue that puts athletes first.

Tange Associates is in charge of designing the swimming venue, or “Olympic Aquatics Center”, for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In 1960, it was Kenzo Tange, and in 2020, it is Chairman Paul Tange, who is responsible for the design. Principal Architect Masaki Nakayama says that Chairman Tange is also aiming for a design with a sense of unity but the circumstances are different from those of Kenzo Tange. “We thought about the nature of the Olympics and what kind of space would be required to represent the Olympics, Japan, and Tokyo. I think these considerations are the same as those in Kenzo Tange’s time. However, we have proposed a plan that also considers the future of the building. Yoyogi National Gymnasium is currently used as a venue for events. The swimming venue that Chairman Tange is working on is being designed to be used as a legacy after the Olympics are over.” Nakayama explains that Chairman Tange is working on a design that puts athletes first. “The nature of the Olympics differs according to the times and this influences the architecture but, no matter what the era, athletes and spectators unite and together develop a great sporting event. This is why together with Chairman Tange we actually met with a number of Olympic medalists to interview them about features make a pool easy to use versus those that are not. Backstroke swimmers said that if ceiling lines were not clear, their sense of direction becomes dulled and it is more difficult to gauge distance, whereas crawl and breaststroke swimmers told us that they got better results if they felt that the end of the pool close to them.”

Nakayama continues, “Spatial design also influences results. We worked on incorporating these opinions into the design. We want the athletes to achieve the best results possible. Our priority of putting comfort first results in a design that puts athletes first. The Olympic Aquatics Center will not be completed for a while yet, but we hope that you will look forward to seeing the kind of space that will be created, how a sense of unity will emerge, and the kind of drama that will unfold from within it.”

Yoyogi National Gymnasium