August 2020

Now that the long rainy season is finally over and the summer weather is here, we hope this communication finds everyone well. Here in Tokyo, we would have been in the middle of the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games. Kengo Kuma’s main stadium would have been packed, and Tsukiji Fish Market-turned-car park would have been full. The Olympic and Paralympic Games (hereafter unified as “Olympics” for brevity) always have a lasting influence on the host city. Looking back at not-so-flattering precedents, the Rio de Janeiro stadium was converted into a car park, and it is said that the Athens Olympics triggered the Greek financial crisis. While negative rumours tend to be sensationalized, we have yet to see what impact the Tokyo Olympic Games will have in times ahead. In this newsletter, we look to the earlier Olympics held in London during 2012. First of all, we should emphasize that its original masterplan has not been fully completed yet, as the full realization is said to go on until 2042.

In autumn of 2018, Bureau’s principal Kaz was in London to research the “legacy masterplan” of the London Olympics, as a Richard Rogers Fellow. In essence, legacy masterplans are schemes prepared in advance to ensure the enduring impact of large-scale facilities and equipment. At London, the legacy was meticulously prepared and continue to be executed. Let’s consider a few examples.

The London Aquatics Centre built in East London was designed by Zaha Hadid and completed in 2013. Yes, this means that the centre itself was in a sense “incomplete” at the time of Olympics. The most notable post-Game conversion, or let’s say the final touch, was in the seating. The seating capacity stipulated by the Olympic Committee was considerably higher than what was necessary for regular community-based sporting events. As such, there would have been excess in capacity unless the facility was adapted afterwards. The architect proposed the temporary seating wings, which would be removed after the Games, and covered with glass facades. This transformational process was part of the original design idea. The facility is now open and being used for various public events, particularly by local residents.

Another example is the basketball arena, designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects. This was a temporary structure based on a system called “Overlay Plan”. The same basketball court later travelled to Brazil and was reused at the Rio Olympics in 2016. The ultimate intention was to place the arena near the less affluent neighborhoods, called favelas, to serve the needs of local children. This is an example of one building having multiple functions and life-cycles. (Not to digress, this newsletter will omit numerous problems that affected these original intentions for another issue.)

The last example is less about legacy masterplan per se, but relates to the beach volleyball court. This venue left strong impressions on the audiences, and its main characteristic was that practically no new structure was created. Instead, vast amounts of sand were brought to Horse Guards Parade — an open space where many ceremonies involving the British Royal Family are traditionally held. Beach volleyball tournament unfolded in front of the Neo-Palladian architecture of the Horse Guards, and formed what in Japanese is known as shakkei, or a “borrowed landscape”. The result was unique to the city, and a proof that an interesting space can be generated without building a new facility.

The main venues for the 2012 Olympics were in East London, where regeneration projects for the area continue on after the Games, rather than peaking at an apotheotic moment. The ongoing plan is to bring universities and museums to create satellites here, and establish an island of culture. A gigantic legacy masterplan was devised several years before the Olympics, with an eye to redevelop this area once devastated by Nazi air-aids, and later polluted by heavy industries. Innovatively, a Key Performance Indicator was to extend the average life expectancy of East London residents. In order to achieve what seemed as an abstract KPI, the scheme prioritized improvements to the living environment, including more schools, hospitals, and enhanced natural ecosystem.

The Olympics tend to focus attention on the architecture of the host city’s new stadiums, which tend to be designed by influential or fashionable architects. However, there needs to be other opportunities for creativity, contributing to developments that outlive the Games, and have a wider impact than the events themselves. We do not yet know what will become of Tokyo Olympics, so in this newsletter we look back to London’s legacy masterplan, also to learn from it and perhaps even to positively influence the future in whatever incarnations. We do so consciously during the exact period when the Tokyo Olympics, might — in some parallel world — have been taking place.

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Imperfect Manifesto from an Imperfect City. Practice as a working prototype for a theory towards new architecture and urbanism, from Tokyo to the World.

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Imperfect Manifesto from an Imperfect City. Practice as a working prototype for a theory towards new architecture and urbanism, from Tokyo to the World.

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