new auckland

Build it on the waterfront

Richard Goldie was involved in plans for a new, sunken waterfront stadium for Auckland. He explains why it would grace, not deface the downtown cityscape.

The Guggenheim in Bilbao, London’s Houses of Parliament, the Sydney Opera House, the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Stadium, the Louvre in Abu Dhabi – all monumental structures built on the water’s edge that are focal points for the residents of those places and are recognised the world over.

For some reason the idea of Auckland building something stunningly beautiful and of striking scale on its waterfront seems scary to many. Hence, the widespread admiration for the recently released proposal for an Auckland waterfront stadium has been accompanied by a tepid undercurrent of – it’s a fantastic idea for Downtown, but do we really want it on the waterfront?

We should definitely want it on the waterfront.

This is not a templated stadium that would simply be dropped into its waterfront location without consideration of its treasured surroundings. The current proposal has been conceptualised with Auckland’s overall waterfront development and our people in mind.

The origin of a partially sunken waterfront stadium in Auckland was dreamt up by consortium member Phil O’Reilly in 2017. Phil dubbed it ‘the crater’. But the concept, while retaining its celebration of Auckland’s volcanic heritage, has been refined to ensure it is an architectural statement in its own right and enhances the surrounding waterfront land and the precious Waitemata Harbour.

The move to ‘sink’ the stadium is a critical one. The stadiums we are familiar with are inward-facing with a playing surface at ground level, and being around them means being confronted with a huge excluding wall about the height of a 10-12 storey building (up to 40 metres). Partially sinking the stadium removes this and offers us a great opportunity to activate the entire water’s edge, with our grand water steps. It is also part of symbolically embracing the taonga that is the Waitemata Harbour by opening the building up to the water and having its lower levels dive back into it.

The roof is lifted and hovers over the stadium preserving views through to the Waitemata, Devonport, and Rangitoto. Roofing and fully enclosing the stadium is non-negotiable for a modern sports and entertainment facility. It rains in Auckland so one of our mantras is ‘no-one needs to see Adele in a poncho again’. Critically too, in the digital age, an all-weather stadium is vital to lure people away from their screens and into a completely enthralling and entertaining live experience.

As the concept evolves, engaging with Mana Whenua, Ngā Aho and the wider creative community, as well as embodying Te Aranga design principles, will be imperative to deliver an authentic, sustainable and enduring design.

Siting a building at the water’s edge is a profoundly ‘pacific’ move. Important buildings in Oceania traditionally occupy this place. This would position Auckland as the quintessential oceanic city among our Asia Pacific neighbours and globally. Imagine rounding North Head on a cruise liner and seeing this beautiful glowing form. That’s an Instagram image, a memory to take home, our ‘Sydney Opera House moment’.

The steel ties that anchor the roof’s edge give the building a modern but classical feel. This is important because when we conceived of the building we considered the stature it must possess. So we looked at our most important and most beautifully sited building- the Auckland Museum. We love the scale of that building and the gravitas it has, and felt the stadium too had to have this quality, to be a civic building. It is only ever a civic building that can occupy such a privileged place in our city and on our waterfront.

Although I respect any initiative to build a downtown stadium, I have no idea why a landlocked one, behind the old railway station would have appeal. I suspect this option was developed only because council are used to thinking about the city with the ports in mind, although even this option requires realignment of Quay Street, which affects port operations.

Developing Bledisloe Wharf into housing, hotels, offices and restaurants, shops and bars – into what we call ‘Bledisloe Quarter’ – is a story the equal of the stadium one.

The development of Bledisloe Quarter as a precinct to match the much lauded and people-friendly Wynyard Quarter, completes our waterfront, and stops at the natural place, the end of the Symonds street ridge. But, if the time is right in future, allows us to ‘go again’ and develop the remaining port land.

So think of a future Auckland – Wynyard Quarter to the west, Bledisloe Quarter to the east, and a continuous active engaging waterfront link all the way between, crowned by a stunning waterfront building – magnificent!

Richard Goldie is a director of Peddle Thorp Architects, a member of the Auckland Waterfront Consortium and a member of Auckland Council’s Urban Design Panel.

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