The Major Design Moments of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

With the Tokyo Olympic Games in full swing, we take a look at the delayed event’s most significant design moments, from the completion of Kengo Kuma’s Japan National Stadium to new public restrooms around the city by top-level architects and designers.

Japan National Stadium by Kengo Kuma

Japan National Stadium by Kengo Kuma

Perhaps the centerpiece of this year’s games is the Japan National Stadium designed by Kengo Kuma, who landed the commission after a controversial proposal by Zaha Hadid was dropped following concerns over its cost and opposition from Japanese architects. Forgoing flashy ornamentation in favor of sustainable features, Kuma conceived of the oval-shaped stadium as a “living tree” and thus wrapped it in wood cladding and three levels of terraces lined with plants and trees.


Liberian uniforms by Telfar Clemens

Liberian uniforms by Telfar Clemens

Telfar Clemens is best known for his label’s highly sought-after bags that sell out almost immediately and were recently knocked off by Guess. The New York–based fashion innovator can now add “sportswear designer” to his resume after creating uniforms for Liberia’s track and field team, which will wear leggings, unitards, duffel bags, and racing spikes by his label. They prominently feature Telfar’s signature apparel design details—notably the unisex one-shouldered tank—and strategically placed stars of the Liberian flag.


Public toilet designed by Shigeru Ban

Tokyo Toilet program

As part of the Tokyo Toilet program, more than a dozen big-name architects were tasked with redesigning public restrooms in the city’s Shibuya district.⁣ The toilets form part of Tokyo’s beautification efforts for the Olympics, and the new facilities, from Tadao Ando‘s circular all-black Amayadori and Toyo Ito’s mushroom-shaped contribution to colorful transparent structures by Shigeru Ban, don’t disappoint. 

Walk in the Woods, a cedar-clad offering from Kengo Kuma, who spearheaded the design for Tokyo National Stadium, replaces a brick toilet block in Nabeshima Shoto Park, while Takenosuke Sakakura has conjured a glow-in-the-dark triumvirate inspired by traditional Japanese lanterns in Nishihara Itchome Park.⁣ Referencing Origata, the traditional Japanese method of gift wrapping, Nao Tamura’s red-hued bathroom is an expression of beauty and etiquette. Then there’s Japanese fashion designer Nigo, founder of the A Bathing Ape brand, who recreated a single-story home—a striking sight in a city full of soaring skyscrapers.


“The Constant Gardeners” by Jason Bruges

The Constant Gardeners by Jason Bruges

The English artist unveils a robotic outdoor installation in Ueno Park that spans art, technology, and sports, and creates a visual representation of the athletes’ movements by combining computing, industrial, robotics, and craft of the Japanese Zen garden. It analyzes video footage from different sports and translates movements into dynamic patterns, in which four robotic arms mounted on linear rails will rake into a gravel canvas.


Tokyo Aquatics Center by Tange Associates and Yamashita Sekkei

Tokyo Aquatics Center by Tange Associates and Yamashita Sekkei

The 15,000-seat aquatics center comes courtesy of Tange Associates’ Paul Tange, whose father, Kenzo Tange, designed a building with the same purpose when Tokyo hosted the Games in 1964. Building on the historic lineage of his father’s natatorium, the Tokyo Aquatics Center features an origami-inspired roof and a state-of-the-art solar-powered heat exchanger system that heats a 10-lane pool.


Olympic cauldron by Nendo

Nendo’s Olympic cauldron

The Opening Ceremony’s centerpiece came from one of Japan’s most prolific industrial designers: Nendo’s Oki Sato. The spherical sculpture-like form, which was lit by Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka at the ceremony, features ten aluminum panels with reflective interiors that mimics the shape of the sun. “At the end of the ceremony, the cauldron ‘blooms’ to welcome the final torchbearer,” Sato says. “This expresses not only the sun itself, but also the energy and vitality that can be obtained from it, such as plants sprouting, flowers blooming, and hands opening wide toward the sky.” Notably, the flame is the first at the Olympics to burn hydrogen—which burns without producing greenhouse gas emissions—instead of propane. 

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