Along with Chicago, the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, and Tokyo are competing to host the 2016 summer Olympics, whose venue will be announced next month. Pritzker Prize laureate Tadao Ando, who is in charge of masterplanning Tokyo’s bid, recently met with writer Edward Lifson at Ando’s Osaka studio. Lifson found the architect hard at work on a Shanghai opera house, and reluctant to talk about the Olympics. “It’s very close to the time for choosing the city, and we have to keep some secrecy,” he said. After some persuasion, however, Ando opened up about the bid, which, like Chicago’s plan, emphasizes existing facilities and a compact footprint.
Tadao Ando: We will plant thousands of trees and make green corridors in the city; we’ll bury utility poles and reuse existing infrastructure and facilities in Tokyo, including some from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, such as Kenzo Tange’s stadium. Seventy percent of our plan uses existing buildings. We’ll renovate and upgrade them to use solar and alternative energies. We are a very compact city, so travel times will be short. We want the 2016 Olympics to be a symbol for the world, using less energy and restoring a harmony with nature in our cities.
Edward Lifson: Chicago’s plan is also compact and proposes some similar things. They also are trying to bring down the cost of holding an Olympics. Why should the IOC (International Olympic Committee) choose your plan over Chicago’s?
I don’t want to compare cities and say Tokyo is the best and we deserve the games. I will say that we are trying to make the most compact Olympics ever. Ninety percent of our facilities will be within an eight-kilometer radius. And part of my plan is to build a new forest in Tokyo Bay on top of a landfill. That is very symbolic to me. It’s called Umi-no-mori (Forest-on-the-Sea). It’ll fight climate change. A green corridor will bring wind from Umi-no-mori into Tokyo.
In Japan, balance with nature is in the culture, but it’s been missing in our cities. We want to restore that balance. I’m not making a big political statement. I’d like to just show what each person can do, one by one. I’d like 500,000 people around the world to donate 1,000 yen [about $10] each for this forest. And then I want people from all over the world to come to Tokyo for the Olympics and to see what we have built on the bay and to think about ecology.
What can Japan learn from China today and from the Beijing 2008 games?
Many, many things. I like how China is developing. I like that they are very practical about their development, and that they are integrating modern architecture in a good way. In Japan, the decision process involved in creating the architecture is very complicated. Many people are involved, including the community. In China, basically there’s a more top-down decision-making process so there is one boss and he makes the decisions and he controls the project. It makes things a little complicated and dangerous because it’s so fast that you can make big mistakes. I better not say any more about China.
Chicago proposes a stadium for 2016 that will come down after the games, in order to preserve the historic park it would be in—Washington Park by Frederick Law Olmsted.
Our new main stadium will be a statement, because I want people and architects from all around the world to be involved in Tokyo’s games. We’d hold a very open, transparent competition to design the new stadium. I would like to create a symbol for the next generation. My colleagues say they’ll help with the competition, colleagues such as Foster, Piano, Nouvel, and Gehry.
So if Tokyo gets the games you won’t design a signature stadium. Is that out of “modesty and lack of ego?”
[Ando laughs] I don’t know! Here’s what I want to do: Right now Japan is kind of closed toward the world. I want to open Japan, and create a symbol of the openness. To create a country full of more possibilities for younger Japanese people, and to show young architects and young people worldwide that they can work and live and invest in Japan. So having a competition for the new stadium would be symbolic.
What if it’s won by a Japanese architect?
It might be! It’ll be an open competition.