TOKOLO Asao: Designer of the Victory Ceremony podiums and emblem

For the first time in the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games - and based on the sustainability concept of Tokyo 2020, “Be better, together - for the planet and the people” - the podiums used in the Victory Ceremonies will be produced out of recycled plastic.

Tokyo 2020 spoke to TOKOLO Asao, the designer of the podium, who also created the official 'harmonised chequered emblem' (kumi-ichimatsu-mon) for the Tokyo 2020 Games, to find out how he felt designing the podium under the concept of an ‘unforgettable victory ceremony.’

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How did you feel watching the production process of the podium you designed?

During the production process, I had an opportunity to witness so many people gathered around the podium to discuss the details of the procedure. It was touching to know that so many people were engaged in the project.

The production of the podium was conducted by a team. I first conveyed my ideas about the shape of the podium, then Professor TANAKA Hiroya of the Keio Research Institute at SFC, Project Manager and Director HIRAMOTO Tomoki, and other front-line staff members figured out how to turn the design ideas into reality. They are an amazing team of immensely talented people. They were practically on the floor taking a good look at the podium, which made me really happy.

How did you come up with the podium design?

The podium design originates from the Tokyo 2020 emblems, which are based on the shape of diamonds. By modifying the three types of rectangles that formed the basic components of the emblems, I created different shapes and patterns. Whereas the emblems aimed at forming a dodecagon, or a 12-sided polygon, that looked like a circle, the podium was created by laying out cubes and cuboids produced by reconfiguring the dodecagon. It didn’t take long to come up with the design because I had been making plans to create a three-dimensional version of the emblems. The podium being a horizontal object, I wanted it to be a cuboid or cube, so my first task was to find the suitable unit for the design based on geometry.

The key concept here was ‘connection.’ For instance, a polka-dot pattern is made up of ‘individual’ circles that are laid out to form ‘groups’ of circles. The way they are aligned is determined by ‘rules.’ Rules, as in sports, are certain restrictions that serve as an essential platform. The proactive rules in my case were based on simple arithmetic-level geometry, or maths-level geometry when things became a bit more complex. The rules were a means of expression. This seems analogous to society. Rules exist to forge beautiful connections and create beautiful things.

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What message did you want to convey through the podium?

Amid the global COVID-19 crisis, the significance of connecting with others and bringing people together is growing, and the idea of forging connections is increasing solidarity. The Olympic symbol of five interlaced rings is a strong logo of solidarity designed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin. The logo was first upheld in a stadium at the Olympic Games Antwerp 1920, which was held after World War I, when the world had just recovered from the Spanish flu pandemic. This was a century ago, but the idea of solidarity symbolised by the logo has been passed on over generations.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games provide an immense opportunity for graphic design and architecture to exert an impact. The COVID-19 crisis has opened our eyes to the reality of our medical care system as well as how we should behave in large cities. As the symbols of connection, the Tokyo 2020 emblems and podium will help spur connections, which hopefully will develop into solidarity. The podium production team includes some young members aged around 22 who worked on 3-D printers. Such geometric technique and accumulation of collective intelligence will become part of the younger generation’s academic learning, which also represents a baton passed on.

What was special about your ideas?

Most podiums employ wrapping for their design, but instead of covering the platform with some decorative print, our podium is based on the philosophy of cubes, which form the structure itself. My design method was mainly based on straight line axis, but the team of geniuses worked out how to apply 3-D printing for this, and produced the products by fully operating 3-D printers. Although I hadn’t met all the members on the team, a solidarity of sorts was formed among us, which must have been the outcome of the ‘connections’ forged.

Another element I particularly poured my energy into was the expression of the indigo blue colour. By studying the material composition, filler, and other elements, we produced a colour that could not have been achieved with print. The podium looks different depending on the amount of light shed on it, so we’re looking forward to seeing how it will appear near a swimming pool where light reflects against the water or outdoors such as in the Equestrian Park. Although a podium lies inconspicuously on the ground or floor, we hope that its presence will be noted by some athletes.

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The podium will be one of the legacies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. What are your thoughts about this?

The underlying philosophy was to create something we would want to keep instead of throwing away as rubbish. Each cube comprising the podium weighs about 1.5kg, light enough for a child to hold. Parts of the podium can be kept and displayed at home, perhaps be put on display at embassies, or presented as memorabilia later on. We can always reproduce it because we have the data (laughs). These kinds of things constitute a legacy, I believe. I would be pleased if children look at this podium in 50 years’ time and realise, “Adults in those days were making dedicated efforts for the Tokyo 2020 Games.” In the future, podiums will attract more attention as something to be designed professionally. It would be nice if it became the norm, at award ceremonies, for the filming crew to capture the image of the podium before moving up the camera to film the winners. I can’t wait to see the podium produced for the Beijing 2022 Games.

What does it mean to you to have designed the podium for the Tokyo 2020 Games?

Athletes work hard on their sport over a long period of time, but only a fraction compete at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The podium is for top athletes who have further worked their way up to the apex of the Games. There are all sorts of drama behind the results. Producing the podium is a behind-the-scene task, but I am proud to have been able to design a place for such great athletes to stand on. The podium for the Tokyo 2020 Games brings out the attractions of shapes, and conveys the idea of connection. It may not be eye-catching, but a closer look will reveal the brilliance of it.

Athletes press forward with training whatever happens, even amid the COVID-19 crisis. Doctors are working hard desperately to save lives. In the long history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Tokyo 2020 Games will be an exceptional one that will provide us with a good opportunity to return to the starting point and revisit their objectives. Art may be a minor element, but I also would like to reflect on the purpose of my involvement.

What part of the Tokyo 2020 Games do you look forward to?

When you see matches and races, most people are impressed by the great performance of athletes such as IKEE Rikako and OSAKA Naomi. Sport has the sacred power to inspire people. So, if possible, I want to see powerful athletes in action with my own eyes, even from a distance, and bask in the joy of being in the same space as them. I’d also like to see a victory ceremony. I even asked the staff to let me participate in a ceremony as a staff member (laughs). I really want to see athletes standing on the podium.

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