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Beyond the finish line

The cancellation of a high-profile stadium designed for the 2020 Olympics demands a rethink about the role of sporting venues for communities as well as athletes.
By Josh Fehnert

In July, Shinzo Abe made a big call. Amid growing resistance to Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid’s proposed Olympic Stadium, the Japanese prime minister halted construction of the bike-helmet-shaped behemoth. Spiralling costs to the tune of ¥250bn €1.8bn and questions about the building’s location (some say it’s too close to the Meiji shrine) created a cacophony too loud for the premier to ignore.

The country will doubtless find another fit in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but the episode brings the role of such ambitious projects into the limelight – as well as a little breathing space to consider the purpose and long-term effects of simply plumping for the biggest and boldest ideas. As the ever-present worry of a building’s legacy hoves into view, Abe’s tough decision offers a chance for a rethink of the stadium’s role in the city.

As well as being landmarks that travelling sports teams visit and badges of honour for cities hosting the world’s athletic elite, stadiums are – or should be – social spaces. There’s an opportunity here to move away from the impersonal, brash and grand commissions that have characterised recent Olympic repertoires and create a space that supports the community in which it’s built.

Previous attempts have struggled to find a role in civic life after medals have been dished out and the rostrums dismounted. Ai Weiwei’s lonesome Bird’s Nest stadium attracts a trickle of visitors but few sporting fixtures. In 2009, Beijing Guoan Football Club rejected the offer of playing matches there, citing the embarrassment of trotting out in a 91,000-seater to see their usual haul of 10,000 spectators dotted among endless rows. Similarly, London’s successful 2012 Games were followed by a round of head-scratching and a few fallow years before its stadium was slated for use by a football team that has little chance of filling it.

In essence, the very need for stadiums evolved to fill a social rather than ceremonial role but the two purposes have always been intertwined. Their structural forebears, the amphitheatres of ancient Greece and Rome, were erected to venerate gods and emperors but always built to seat and serve the masses, from the noblemen to the rank and file. They are ultimately democratic spaces.

Abe’s decision is a brave one. We’ll wait and see if Tokyo, a city not short of forward-thinking designers, can muster a plan that’s built with daily users and residents (as well as noblemen) in mind. After the confetti settles and the global gaze shifts from the long-hyped Olympics, it’s the stadium’s ability to bed into the city’s social fabric – rather than its size – that will be the truest test of legacy.

Q&A- Sarah Herda

Artistic director, Chicago Architecture Biennial

From October to January, some 60 exhibitors from 30 countries will participate in the Chicago Architecture Biennial. It’s the largest exhibition of its kind in North America so we spoke to its artistic director to find out more.

Why start an Architecture Biennial in Chicago?
The city is central to every architect’s education, from the Burnham Plan to the city’s urban grid and the extraordinary contributions from [Chicago architects] Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and Mies van der Rohe. It is a protagonist in the history of modernism.

What can we expect?
It’s not a typical show. You’re going to see full-scale installations, films, photography and some of the more traditional methods of representation, like models and drawings. We’re also challenging them to use the site of the exhibition and introduce new ideas to the field.

How does it differ from other biennials?
We want it to affect the way the public thinks about architecture. Whether you’re a politician or a citizen you’re making design decisions everyday, so we want the biennial to be a resource for that. I’m excited about the way in which these first projects are going to come together; the kind of energy that’s going to happen when you have, say, a young couple from Jakarta next to this more established figure from South Korea, next to someone from Chicago – an exchange of ideas.
chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org

Home front

London [SIMPLE SHAPE]

Helen Osgerby worked in media before committing to a life-long passion for design and setting up her online retailer Simple Shape this May. Osgerby has been a keen homeware hoarder since she was a teenager and started her shop in order to sell objects that she would want to see in her own home.

The selection includes everything from spoons to notebooks and all of her finds are sourced from the UK and Ireland. “I think the skills exist here; there’s a heritage that is as long as the country has existed,” she says.

Through chance encounters, painstaking research and extensive travels throughout the British Isles, Osgerby stocks work by 13 different makers, including mouth-blown glass carafes, rustic wicker fruit baskets and cosy herringbone throws.
simple-shape.com

Firm favourites:

  1. Ceramics by Elliot Denny
    A printer by trade, Denny turned his hand to ceramics with the help of Osgerby.
  2. Spoons by Roanna Wells:
    This cutlery is hand-carved in Sheffield with wood courtesy of felled sycamore trees from Norfolk.
  3. Notebooks by Tom Pigeon:
    Husband-and-wife team Kirsty and Pete Thomas’s jotters are inspired by the harbour in the Scottish fishing village of Cellardyke where the pair hail from.

He who squares

Tokyo [GRAPHPAPER]

Takayuki Minami is a busy man: the entrepreneur masterminded Tokyo fashion retailer 1LDK before setting up Alpha PR. His latest venture is design-and-fashion shop Graphpaper, which recently opened for business on a backstreet of Jingumae in the Japanese capital.

Among the 40 brands he stocks are a mix of the established and new, such as trainers from Diadora and jackets from Comoli. On the design front there is also a selection of glassware from Fresco Takeshi Tsujino and some wooden goodies by Shoji Morinaga.
graphpaper-tokyo.com

Bonjour, Brazil

Paris [JAMES GALLERY]

Following a trip to Brazil, French couple Paul Viguier and Candice Fauchon fell for the country’s craftsmanship – hence the James Gallery. The couple introduces refurbished vintage pieces to the European market; works by 20th-century masters include pieces by Joaquim Tenreiro, Sergio Rodrigues, Jorge Zalszupin, and Oscar Niemeyer.
james-paris.com

Rural retreat

New York [HUDSON WOODS]

New Yorkers looking for fresh air and a home beyond the city limits may be intrigued by the latest housing development by Lang Architecture, slated for completion in 2016. The 26 modern structures are open-plan but cosy and highlight the surrounding rolling scenery with windows framed in mahogany and floors, panelled walls and ceilings in white oak.
hudsonwoods.com

Soft landing

London [TIIPO TEXTILES]

Spandana Gopal’s London-based homeware brand Tiipoi launched its premiere textile collection at the London Design Festival. The studio’s geometric three-tone cotton cushions and rugs are handwoven on five-metre-long looms – a tried-and-tested southern Indian technique. “In India an object never dies, it is everlasting,” says Gopal.
tiipoi.com

Teaching by example

Mexico City [CENTRO]

Established in 2004, Centro is one of Mexico’s leading schools in film and design. This September it will open a campus designed by Enrique Norten of Ten Arquitectos. Located on Avenida Constituyentes, the building’s front-facing windows send a message of openness to passers-by.

Inside, students can access a four-storey media library; there is also a staircase that has been designed by Dutch-born, Mexico-based artist Jan Hendrix. Intent on redefining Mexico City’s creative offerings, Centro has set out its stall with a building that exemplifies its motives.
centro.edu.mx

**Solid efforts*

New York [VISIBILITY FOR MATTER MADE]

Entrepreneurs in mind of refreshing or rethinking their desktops need look no further than the work of Brooklyn-based studio Visibility. Design duo Sina Sohrab and Joseph Guerra began the project with a cast-iron paperweight but the set has quickly grown to the point that it now encompass a folio holder, bookends, tray and sloped dish. They are made of cast glass, marble, aluminium and maple wood respectively; each form was driven by the specific qualities of the materials used.

“There were liberties that we had with this project that aren’t ordinarily afforded to us,” says Sohrab of the collection designed for Matter Made in New York. “Working with a gallery allowed us to push our efforts in a more sculptural direction.”
vsby.co ; mattermatters.com

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