A “tennis dome/emergency center” outside Kobe, Japan, gets a quick review in the new issue of Architectural Record.
[Image: Shuhei Endo’s “tennis dome/emergency center” (left), photographed by Kenichi Amano, next to the New Orleans Superdome, post-Katrina].
Designed by Shuhei Endo, the building is both a sports complex and a regional disaster preparedness center – it can become a field hospital, refugee camp, and even perhaps a prison in times of national emergency.
In the event of an earthquake or typhoon, supply trucks can drive directly into the 174,000-square-foot building, thanks to movable glass panels at four locations around the perimeter. But on normal days, athletes enter primarily through a domed foyer on the building’s east side.
We’ve already seen the (as it happens, disastrous) transformation of sports infrastructure into emergency housing during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; but will we all find ourselves someday huddling under floodlights on repurposed football fields after the Big One hits?
I’m reminded of that famous scene from J.G. Ballard’s excellent novel Empire of the Sun, wherein the European prisoners of war are led into Shanghai’s former Olympic Stadium:
This concrete arena had been built on the orders of Madame Chiang Kaishek, in the hope that China might be host to the 1940 Olympic Games. Captured by the Japanese after their invasion in 1937, the stadium became the military headquarters for the war zone south of Shanghai.
The prisoners – former doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and their families – are forced to camp out on the “wet grass” of the overgrown soccer pitch, “waving away the mosquitoes that had followed them into the stadium.” The whole structure has been gutted, meanwhile, stuffed full with spoils of war – cars, tables, and Turkish rugs taken from the rich homes of the International District.
Bedsteads and wardrobes, refrigerators and air-conditioning units were stacked above one another, rising in a slope toward the sky. The immense presidential box, where Madame Chiang and the Generalissimo might once have saluted the world’s athletes, was now crammed with roulette wheels, cocktail bars and a jumble of gilded plaster nymphs holding gaudy lamps above their heads.
Are similarly surreal scenes of material juxtaposition lying in wait for structures such as Shuhei Endo’s “single, cavernous space that holds nine tennis courts,” as earthquake-rattled survivors file in to take up residence amidst the dust and fallen walls of the city?
And are sports infrastructure twinned with military-run refugee camps really the end-game of 21st century disaster urbanism?
[Image: Stacked washing machines, from the J.G. Ballard-inspired series Future Ruins by Michelle Lord].
Of course, I’m also reminded of a scene toward the end of 28 Weeks Later, when the American military helicopter lands on the grass football pitch of Norman Foster’s new Wembley Stadium: the grass, untended now for 28 weeks, is waist-high, like a wild English meadow, the stalks blowing in slow, flattening spirals from the crosswinds of the aircraft’s blades.
How ironic to think that sports stadiums – justifiably bemoaned by certain urban planners for their financial short-sightedness – might someday prove to be the most valuable buildings in the city.