by Robert Bowen and Rashiq Fataar
The proposed Green Point Athletics Stadium renders were made available to the public some months ago, as well as those for the nearby A-track. The renovated facilities will form a critical supporting role for the Green Point Park and the broader Green Point Common.
Before assessing what ought to be done, it’s important to understand the context in which the project is to be executed. A clear precedent is fortunately set given the site’s location between the mountain and sea within Green Point Park. Although linked to the 2010 FIFA World Cup through the Record of Decision (ROD) in 2006, the plans are not subject to a looming deadline or the pressure of a mega-event. It would therefore have been advisable for local and provincial authorities, as well as other parties to co-ordinate a long-term vision for athletics and other sports venues- currently sorely lacking for Cape Town.
A public competition of this nature lends itself, in scale and impact, to the principles of design thinking as motivated by the 2014 World Design Capital bid. Our city has a very beautiful stadium complemented by thoughtful urban landscaping. Many clues as to an aesthetic are all there for the taking and to oppose them would be foolish; similarly, challenging the stadium would be foolish. The building’s role should be a supporting one.
The contemporary cues put forward by the development of the common are met with a long and interesting history on the site.
According to the City of Cape Town, “the 105-hectare Green Point Park, part of the Green Point Common as it was previously known, has played an important role throughout Cape Town’s recorded history of over 350 years and by the turn of the 21st century the area consisted of mostly dedicated sports fields and associated clubhouses. It became the site of the very first horse races held in the Cape in 1795; a venue for rugby and cricket; the Green Point track became an important venue for cycling and other athletics sports and, in 1900, land was made available for a metropolitan golf course.”
The site is littered with historic hooks on which to snag a creative concept and from which to deliver a venue, which will directly or indirectly, position itself as the premier athletics venue in the city, region, and potentially our country.
Which is why we are filled with great disappointment with the proposed design put forward by the city’s architects. While it is understood that the renders put forward are a design concept rather than concrete plans and that budget, as always, is a restrictive issue- the poor design put forward cannot be justified.
As construction gets underway, of particular concern is the decision to only allow for a maximum of 7,000 seats. While the Athletics Stadium’s capacity should not aim to compete with that of the adjacent Green Point Stadium, the venue should have provisions to allow for temporary expansion of capacity in order to cater for larger events. The concept of incremental investment infrastructure is evident in events strategies globally, but is not apparent in the proposed redevelopment of this venue. This failure of planning may come at a great cost to future generations.
Already within the region are several facilities that have considered the medium to long-term. The CTICC was always conceived as a venue with expansion in mind, initially the Customs House site, and today the vacant parking lot to the East. In similar fashion, the MyCiTi bus system is being delivered in several phases, while the OR Tambo Hall in Khayelitsha incorporates timber sidewalls in order to cater for possible future expansion.
This being said, there is evidence of good design in the renderings. Retaining part of the old concrete structure makes sense; it is honest, well articulated and the columns supporting the stands have a fantastic dynamism. Add this to the financial and environmental benefits. By retaining the old stadium’s structure a sense of built memory is retained which enriches our landscape. Connecting a light steel structure to the heavy concrete base provides a sensible definition between the old and new. From this a thin crisp lightweight roof can cantilever which is mindful of the Green Point stadium’s translucency and tone. These ideas form a good starting point from which a great design could spring.
The rest of the ideas presented remain decidedly dull and dated. The addition at the end of the stands is strange and outdated, and the stadium itself appears an isolated island locked off with fencing and tall columns. The need for access control is well understood but a contemporary stadium should be inwards- as well as outwards-focused, and be more than a sum of its parts. Further to this, the stadium approach, currently used as a resting space and skateboard park over weekends, lacks any sense of space or arrival.
Live sports are about atmosphere for spectators as well as athletes, and the proposed stadium does not promise to deliver on this point. This is not a way to encourage the growth of a sport in the city. The proposed stadium does not seem to engage with the park on any greater level, nor does it manifest any of the qualities of Cape Town. We’re a dynamic, unique people. Our city is filled with diversity, history and humour. This project should be an opportunity to embrace those qualities and have a little fun with the design. There is no need to be so serious. To live up to the mature elegance of its big sister is an exercise in futility and it should not be attempted.
The proposed Green Point Athletics Stadium lacks a spirit and a character – other than what it might steal from the concrete remains upon which it sits. It fulfils its brief but does no more and therein lies the shame.
The new stadium should ideally have supported the existing infrastructure of the park, and be in dialogue with it. This dialogue should further encourage debate about it’s future as a venue for potential All-Africa Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games, which should come as no surprise given the current revision of the country’s events strategies, and the firming up of our own events strategies as seen by the most recent draft Provincial events strategy.
We have the talent, the industry needs the work and the pubic deserves more. Green Point Athletics stadium in its current form is off the mark on several accounts. Although construction is already underway, we would recommend that the City of Cape Town, stops, thinks and plans for a venue that is designed to meet current needs, future aspirations and is consistent with looming events strategies.