Ur­ban De­sign,

With a new sta­dium back on the agenda, an ar­chi­tec­tural de­bate is in or­der.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — CHRIS BAR­TON

Ar­chi­tec­tural de­bates: some­times Auck­land does have them, even if the dis­cus­sion is mostly not about de­sign and in­evitably de­volves into a piss­ing con­test. Nowhere is this more dispir­it­ing than when the city talks sta­dium — a word that, once ut­tered (thanks, Phil Goff), pro­vokes a slew of bark­ing opin­ions and an ar­ray of schemes from the au­da­cious (at Tank Farm with surf­ing, says ar­chi­tect Gre­gor Ho­heisel) to the barmy (sink it in the Waitem­ata, says de­signer Phil O’Reilly).

I al­most like the surf­ing one. But for sheer chutz­pah you can’t re­ally go past the pul­sat­ing egg that Pete Boss­ley and Barry Copeland pro­posed to poach on a causeway-con­nected plat­form on the Manukau Har­bour in 2006.

Then, in prepa­ra­tion for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the gov­ern­ment ac­tu­ally of­fered to build Auck­land a sta­dium. It favoured a War­ren and Ma­honey de­sign strad­dling a plat­form across Cap­tain Cook and Mars­den wharves, al­legedly at a cost of $497 mil­lion.

The scheme never got off the wa­ter, shouted down by politi­cians and ac­tivists from the left and right — John Minto, Keith Locke and Rod­ney Hide — and by protests, pe­ti­tions and apart­ment res­i­dents con­cerned about their view. Not to men­tion that the de­sign and cost­ing were half-baked. Some com­pared the pro­posed translu­cent bowl to a haem­or­rhoid cush­ion. Lost in the fra­cas were some po­ten­tially good ideas — a pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble ex­te­rior con­course and a pedes­trian tun­nel un­der Quay St to the train sta­tion. De­spite the ar­chi­tects calling it a float­ing cloud, it would have been a butt-ugly ad­di­tion to Auck­land’s wa­ter­front.

A num­ber of al­ter­na­tives were pro­posed, in­clud­ing a quite good Car­law Park up­grade and the Boss­leyCopeland scheme in the Manukau mud op­po­site Portage Rd, be­side the rail­way track — in truth, a bril­liant lo­ca­tion. The barmy prize went to chil­dren’s book au­thor Jonathan Gun­son, who came up with the “waka sta­dium” — yes, a mon­ster waka with an enor­mous 290-me­tre carved prow and oars which made it look like a tubby Noah’s ark.

What we got, in the end, was a half-assed plas­tic-clad makeover of Eden Park and some tem­po­rary seat­ing. If Auck­land couldn’t man­age to get a new sta­dium for the Rugby World Cup, is it ever go­ing to get one? Mayor Goff has put the idea back on the agenda, ap­par­ently con­cerned about the long-term vi­a­bil­ity of Eden Park, which faces on­go­ing main­te­nance/up­grade costs plus grow­ing op­po­si­tion from an Eden Park neigh­bours’ lobby. Goff favours a site be­side the Spark (for­merly Vec­tor) Arena. Mean­while, Re­gional Fa­cil­i­ties Auck­land has com­mis­sioned a PwC pre-fea­si­bil­ity study look­ing at the vi­a­bil­ity of Goff’s lo­cale and other sites in the CBD. In other words, don’t hold your breath. Have we learned noth­ing from last time?

One of the main rea­sons we get such poor ar­chi­tec­tural and ur­ban de­sign out­comes in Auck­land is that we don’t talk about the is­sues enough. We hardly ever talk about the ar­chi­tec­ture. So far, just as be­fore, de­bate has been about lo­ca­tion — an im­por­tant dis­cus­sion to have, but not the full story. One of the prob­lems with O'Reilly’s “crater” is that it as­sumes the War­ren and Ma­honey scheme was well lo­cated and well de­signed. Clearly, as seen by the back­lash, it wasn’t. O'Reilly seeks to mit­i­gate the short­com­ings by sink­ing the thing, as though this might rep­re­sent some­thing uniquely New Zealand. Yes, uniquely daft.

O’Reilly does, how­ever, high­light a com­mon theme in the schemes that have been, some­times lit­er­ally, floated: a crav­ing for the iconic, for our equiv­a­lent of Jørn Ut­zon’s Syd­ney Opera House or

Frank Gehry’s Guggen­heim Mu­seum in Bil­bao. A shin­ing em­blem to com­ple­ment the city’s beau­ti­ful set­ting. Some­thing a bit more in­spi­ra­tional than the city’s de facto icon, the spark-plug Sky Tower.

Iconic ar­chi­tec­ture also has an eco­nomic ar­gu­ment. It can bring pub­lic ben­e­fits in all sorts of sur­pris­ing ways, the so-called Bil­bao ef­fect. Per­haps a beaut sta­dium might just do the trick.

If that’s what the city wants, then it needs to start hav­ing more lyri­cal dreams of what iconic might be — some­thing along the lines of Bei­jing’s Bird’s Nest by Herzog and de Meu­ron. Or Bei­jing’s Wa­ter Cube, with its struc­ture de­vised from soap bub­bles. It pos­si­bly needs a star­chi­tect to de­sign it, but it would be nice to see a Kiwi step up.

Con­sid­er­ing the cost of at least a bil­lion dol­lars, it wouldn’t hurt to think about what else a city sta­dium might be — a de­sign that en­vis­aged vi­able us­age 365 days a year. This is where Ho­heisel’s ar­ti­fi­cial wave pool along­side Wyn­yard Point — bring­ing other pub­lic recre­ational en­gage­ment around the sta­dium — has some merit. These days, peo­ple don’t just want to be spec­ta­tors, they want to feel like par­tic­i­pants, so there’d have to be some high-tech and im­mer­sive as­pect. It could be use­ful to think of a sta­dium not just as one build­ing, but as a mixed-use con­glom­er­ate so that sur­round­ing of­fice blocks might be de­signed to par­tic­i­pate, con­vert­ing, for ex­am­ple, to cor­po­rate boxes on week­ends. The is­sue of get­ting vast crowds to and from in an ef­fi­cient way is al­ways go­ing to be a chal­lenge given how crap the city is at pro­vid­ing pub­lic trans­port. Then there’s rugby, which is about as iconic as it gets in Aotearoa, so we’d have to rep­re­sent some­thing of the spirit of the haka in the de­sign. And per­haps a lit­tle nos­tal­gia for Eden Park which, iron­i­cally, is an iconic sports ground.

Doable? Of course, as long as the city talks about it, ar­gues, dis­agrees — has an ar­chi­tec­tural de­bate. Usu­ally with such build­ings there’s big con­tro­versy, cost over­runs, bud­get blowouts and some­times an ar­chi­tect run out of town. At first, half the city will need to hate the pro­posal — un­til they even­tu­ally come to love it, em­brace it and call it iconic.

Iconic ar­chi­tec­ture can bring pub­lic ben­e­fits in all sorts of sur­pris­ing ways, the so-called Bil­bao ef­fect. Per­haps a beaut sta­dium might just do the trick.

FAR LEFT— How a sta­dium (in this ex­am­ple, the Syd­ney Foot­ball Sta­dium) could fit be­side Spark Arena. (Im­age cre­ated by Ni­co­las Reid/Greater Auck­land.) LEFT— Phil O’Reilly’s de­sign, dubbed “The Crater”. BE­LOW— The sta­dium/wave pool plan sug­gested by...

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