The jewel of the 1964 Olympics: The Yoyogi National Stadium

Jul 24, 2021, 1:25 PM | Updated: Jul 25, 2021, 1:37 am

TOKYO (AP) — The Yoyogi National Stadium by Kenzo Tange was the elegant symbol of Tokyo’s 1964 Summer Olympics, a combination of modern technique and Japanese tradition.

Tange was awarded the Pritzker prize in 1987 — architecture’s highest award — and the citation described Yoyogi as “among the most beautiful buildings of the 20th century.”

It remains so. Simple. Striking. Timeless.

It went up just 19 years after Japan’s defeat in World War II, a time when building materials were in short supply in the country. It offered an early glance into a modernizing Japan that included tiny transistor radios, bullet trains, and ubiquitous labels that read “Made in Japan.”

Yoyogi’s sweeping roof is anchored to earth and held up by steel cables — like a suspension bridge — and connects modern, western design with forms found in Japanese temples and shrines.

“It’s kind of a miracle,” said professor Souhei Imamura, who teaches architecture at the Chiba Institute of Technology. “It combines structure, form and also function. Each is unique and they are blended. Dynamism was required at the time because Japanese society wanted to change, to evolve. The dynamism was also needed for those Olympics.”

Yoyogi endures like a 500-year-old European cathedral and sits next door to the sprawling park and Meiji Shrine in central Tokyo. Small by today’s standards, Yoyogi was the swimming venue in ’64 where American teenager Don Schollander won four gold medals. He was the Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps of Tokyo 57 years ago.

This time it’s the venue for team handball, and was also used for a gymnastic event last year when organizers began testing anti-COVID-19 measures they might use in order to hold the Olympics during a pandemic.

Tange also designed a companion building next door — usually called the Annex — that was the basketball venue in ’64 where the Americans won gold with players like Bill Bradley, Jeff Mullins, and Jerry Shipp.

“Like the Meiji Shrine, most of the traditional buildings in Japan have a big roof. The symbol is the roof. It’s quite different from western building where the emphasis is mainly on the facade,” Imamura explained.

Besides Yoyogi, the Nippon Budokan is the other well-known venue being being used from ’64, again for judo. Budokan literally translates in English as “martial arts hall.”

A series of Beatles’ concerts in 1966 gave the Budokan its world fame, probably more so than the ’64 Olympics.

American architect James Lambiasi, who has worked for 26 years in Japan, has described Yoyogi as the “pinnacle of modern architecture.” He pointed out that Tokyo was a wooden city recovering after the war and, the concrete and steel contributed to the city’s rebirth.

“When you describe a building as iconic, or really representing its time, it’s not just one thing about it, it’s like this perfect storm of different conditions coming together that make it really special,” explained Lambiasi, who practices architecture it Tokyo at teaches at Temple University in Tokyo.

“It’s the way in which Tange was able to have something completely modern and yet somehow reflecting the cultural design and the spirit of Japan.” Lambiasi added. “That’s where it became this iconic building and checked all of the boxes.”

He likened Tange to Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí whose organic, modernist buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century populate Barcelona with buildings like the church of Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila.

“It’s not the same thing, but the spirit of it is very, very similar,” Lambiasi said. “Gaudi was the genius who didn’t follow any rules. He came up with new, incredible things that came out of nowhere.”

Lambiasi also pointed out the era in which Tange worked. This was before computer graphics or computer modeling, when architects and engineers worked on a drafting table with a T-square and slide rule. Tange added imagination to those basic tools.

“I just cannot imagine doing that building without a computer,” Lambiasi said. “And the fact they were able to calculate all the movement going on; everything being calculated out by hand, basically.”

Despite the engineering complexity, the Yoyogi’s design is basic. Lambiasi joked that many engineers working with Tange “earned PhDs” trying to turn his designs into reality.

“Yoyogi is like a tent where you have two poles and the cable goes from the ground to the top of the pole — and then between the poles — and back to the ground,” Lambiasi explained. “Being anchored to the ground keeps everything up. The concept is very primitive, very simple. It’s beautiful in its simplicity.”


More AP Olympics: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Iranian and US supporters pose for a photo before the World Cup group B soccer match between Iran a...
Associated Press

US, Iran fans mingle in Qatar ahead World Cup clash

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Smiling U.S. and Iranian fans mingled and posed for photos outside a stadium in Doha ahead of a politically charged World Cup match on Tuesday. The atmosphere was generally festive though the political divisions among Iran fans were apparent outside Al Thumama Stadium, as they have been during previous Iran games […]
1 day ago
Fans watch a World Cup group A soccer match between the Netherlands and Qatar at the Al Bayt Stadiu...
Associated Press

Qatar says farewell to World Cup in 2-0 loss to Netherlands

AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) — Ibrahim Al-Ghanim, a former Qatar national soccer team defender, was dressed like thousands of other local men as he rushed to his seat through a main foyer at Al Bayt Stadium. He wore the traditional thobe — the long-sleeve, floor-length white robe — and came to celebrate Qatar’s national team […]
1 day ago
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup grou...
Associated Press

World Cup Viewer’s Guide: Messi tries to avoid elimination

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Two of the best players on the planet go head-to-head when Lionel Messi of Argentina and Robert Lewandowski of Poland meet with World Cup implications in what is likely Messi’s final attempt to win the tournament. That match is part of an intense Wednesday at the World Cup: Mexico could be […]
1 day ago
FILE - Tiger Woods, of the United States, stands on the 11th hole during the first round of the Bri...
Associated Press

Tiger Woods doesn’t ‘have much left in this leg’ to compete

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) — Tiger Woods painted an uncertain picture about how much golf he can play, saying Tuesday that “I don’t have much left in this leg.” He also doesn’t have much hope the PGA Tour and the Saudi-funded rival league can get along unless Greg Norman is out as LIV Golf’s leader. “Not […]
1 day ago
An Iranian flag and a scarf depicting U.S. flag are sold at the Souq Waqif Market in Doha, Qatar, T...
Associated Press

US-Iran match reflects a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

BAGHDAD (AP) — The U.S. team’s must-win World Cup match against Iran will be closely watched across the Middle East, where the two nations have been engaged in a cold war for over four decades and where many blame one or both for the region’s woes. Critics of Iran say it has fomented war and […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

$10M settlement announced in heat death of Georgia student

ATLANTA (AP) — The parents of a Georgia high school basketball player who collapsed while practicing outdoors in sweltering heat and later died announced Tuesday that they have agreed to a $10 million settlement with the school district. As part of the settlement, the Clayton County school system agreed to rename the gymnasium at Elite […]
1 day ago
The jewel of the 1964 Olympics: The Yoyogi National Stadium