Monday, October 17, 2011



The Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Tokyo, built for the Olympics in 1964, is the most famous work by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, which catapulted him to international fame and to the Pritzker Prize. Its aerodynamic, monumental and suggestive design became an icon of the Japanese capital and a benchmark in the Metabolist Movement, distancing himself from the International Style. When it was completed, the National Gymnasium had the world's largest suspended roof and after almost 50 years its completion it still looks extraordinarily well preserved.

The complex consists of 2 buildings, and both stand out by their quality of their structures as well as the innovation of their design, by using high technology in a country constantly shaken by strong winds and earthquakes.


Japan was devastated after its defeat in World War II in 1945 and during the American occupation led by MacArthur. However, the world was surprised when less than 20 years after the atomic bombs were dropped, Japan organized the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, and it would be even more impressed with the extraordinary quality of its sports infrastructure, leaded by this Olympic Park designed by Kenzo Tange .

Tange (1913-2005) was a legendary figure in modern Japanese architecture. Influenced by Le Corbusier , was a master in the use of reinforced concrete, the material it has developed numerous works. His urban projects such as rebuilding plan Hiroshima or Tokyo Expansion plan earned him international recognition, garnering numerous awards including the prestigious Pritzker.


Located in the Shibuya district, the complex is officially called Yoyogi National Gymnasium named as the park where it stands. Opposite, there is a large green area which houses the important Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji.

Also close by is Harajuku station, where some Japanese are often dressed in bizarre customs.

The two gyms are placed in a landscaped platform. In fact, despite their monumental size, they give the impression that the roofs are born the park itself, emphasizing its relationship with the surrounding environment.


The elegant roofs of the two gyms use a contemporary language and a similar structural logic: they are suspended by two large steel cables. Both axes are arranged in an east-west, which is also the predominant direction of plot.

General layout of the Yoyogi Park


With a capacity for 10,000 people, the main gym can accommodates swimming events, but also basketball and hockey games.

The space is organized symmetrically, distributing the stands to the north and south, emphasizing the east-west direction in both the roof and the location of the entrances.

Main Gym floor plan


The structural concept is based on a main spine that consists of two steel cables 13 " in diameter, anchored to two large slabs of concrete on either end of the building and to two structural towers. Cables describe a parabolic curve (technically, it is called catenary ) from which smaller wires are placed perpendicularly, to form a tent-like roof.

Details of the structural system of Gym Staff. Model on the ARCHI-NEERING exhibition (which I will discuss in a later post), during the World Congress of Architecture in Tokyo 2011

The roof over stands, having a different curvature from that of the cables, generates an elegant and graceful roofing structure, whose surface, concave and convex at the same time, is always different from any viewed angle (a mix of paroble and hyperbole, again technically, is called a hyperbolic paraboloid . Tange had already used this way in the monument of the saddle in the Hiroshima Peace Park ).
Structural scheme of the roof
Details of anchor of the two steel cables.


Kenzo Tange takes advantage of the gap between the two curves to propose an imposing triangular access, which, despite having a monumental scale, seem to be born of the earth, giving the building a feeling of lightness. Both accesses are preceded by concourses or squares, which are distinguished from the rest of the park by a small atrium.

Another detail that provides visual lightness to the structure is the graceful cantilevers containing the stands that give the impression that the building would levitate. These stands also accommodate the rhythmically arranged openings.

Detail of the side wing of the gym. In the background is the building of Roppongi Hills .

The rhythm is also applied at the entrances, where the V-shaped metal structure of different size is displayed in a dynamic way.

It is also important to note that the roof, although it used state-of-the-art technology at the time, still evokes elements of traditional Japanese architecture, particularly the roofs of Shinto shrines. In fact, the first building of its 29 years Tange was a memorial representing the Ise Shrine.

Detail of one columns of the gym. Interestingly, I visited the main shrine of Ise for a week. The reference was inevitable.

Tange used exposed concrete, metal and steel, favorite materials the Brutalism of the mid-60's, and exploited the versatility of these to achieve dynamic and sculptural forms.


Tange used the space between the two catenary arched to allocate a large skylight, which adds a dramatic effect within the space. Tange used a similar system in his St. Mary Cathedral in Tokyo.



It has a capacity for 5,300 spectators and is used for minor sports. The space is organized around two non-concentric circles, and therefore some stands are larger than the opposite. Unlike the main gym, this has only one structural column and one single entry.

In his interesting "Atlas of Architecture, Volume 1", Werner Muller and Gunther Vogel made ​​the following analysis:

In plan, the inner circle of the ring (1) is offset with respect to the circle formed by the stands of spectators (2), which results in the shell form that they acquire and the dynamic curve upward of the stands in front of the entrance. The outer ring distribution is, in turn, slightly shifted in the opposite direction, widening gradually towards the entrance (as the opening of a snail shell) to the extension of the ring (8,9,10) to buttress block. The difference in the layout of the circles in plant responds to the movements of the public, both in the crowds at the entrance and exit as in their distribution in the stands.

A small square precedes the gym, landscaped with a small Japanese-style pond. As in the other gym, the roof also seems to be rising from the park.

For the smaller gym, the Japanese master used the same principle, only instead of using two concrete slabs, using a single, like a gigantic mast.

Two views of the mast.

The roof is conceived by way of an unwinding spiral, culminating in a sharp bow. Müller and Vogel comment on the roofing:

The roof is constructed as a laminar structure, following a principle similar to a mesh of wires with hard edges. The rim is formed by a ring along the outer edge of the enclosure, and is divided into two curved beams, an upper (8) and lower (9) joined by single brackets (7). Instead of steel cables as originally thought, the structure is formed by a set of hanging beams (6) lying between the outer ring and a steel tube (5) that spirals upwards. This is laid, -instead of the main cable-, forming the ridge of the roof hanging from the large block that acts as a buttress (4) at the outer end of the main entrance, forming a curve, initially smooth but later rises perpendicular to the upper pylon (3), linked to buttress by an underground concrete wall. Among the hanging beams are smaller beams arranged diagonally at regular intervals, on which rests the outside part of the roofing, consisting of steel plates 4-5 mm thick. The static behavior of this type of construction requires a blade.

Details of the structural system of the Lower Gym. Model on the ARCHI-NEERING exhibition (which I will discuss in a later post), during the World Congress of Architecture in Tokyo 2011


Yoyogi Gymnasium was the first building that I visited during my first stay in Tokyo. It was a very rainy day, maybe it was a typhoon, but I did not care. I was overwhelmed by the monumentality of this design and its careful execution and state of preservation. I was very impressed because I had only seen it before in a few small photos, hidden somewhere in the history books of modern architecture.
Today I went back to Yoyogi 8 years later (happily on a sunny day) and still impresses me. Having seen more of Japan than the first time, I could understand it a little better, so I wanted to share my impressions with you in this post.


  1. I'm not an architect, but I'm a great fan of Tange's subtle design (I walk past the two stadiums on my way to work). It's very sad that one of them will be demolished this year. Keeping one of the two stadiums is not an acceptable compromise -- the complex should be preserved as a whole.


    1. I am relieved to read that the stadium that will be demolished is in another part of Tokyo!

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  3. Thank you so much for this post! I had a presentation to do on it and your work inspired me a lot!

    1. I too have presentation regarding Yoyogi national gymnasium is regarding form analysis..
      I didn't get much information regarding that though..

      If you have any information other than this could you please send me through mail..

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