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Symbol of hope

As Christchurch continues to rebuild following the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, a new stadium has risen from the rubble  


T he relief to finally be home is palpable for Hamish Riach, the CEO of New Zealand’s Canterbury Crusaders, Christchurch’s highly successful rugby union club. The team hadn’t played a home fixture since May 2010 after earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011 measuring 7.1 and 6.3 on the Richter scale respectively decimated the South Island city. And despite the fact that the team’s new ground, the AMI Stadium in Addington, is a temporary one, its impact will be significantly more permanent. “The emotion of the earthquakes kept us going, but we couldn’t have survived another year constantly travelling and playing away,” concedes Riach. “It was tough financially but this new stadium means we’re back in business.”

“I’m not sure we’ve worked on a project such as this before, where the stadium has been so central and symbolic to the rebuilding effort of an entire city and to a whole community getting back on its feet,” admits Daryl Maguire, associate principal, Populous. “The people of Christchurch are really keen on sport generally but rugby and the Crusaders are a religion. The fact they now have a venue where they can come together and celebrate as one offers Cantabrians great hope.”

The morale-boosting effect of a new focal point for the region’s sporting heroes was in fact the key driver for Gerry Brownlee, Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, who led from the front to bring the stadium to fruition as quickly as possible. For Maguire, a New Zealander whose father came from the Canterbury region (and who still has many friends and relatives in the area), working on the Addington project was, in his words, one of the most rewarding experiences of his life, despite the intensity of the schedule – the likes of which will almost certainly never be witnessed again. With the Crusaders’ former home (AMI Stadium at Lancaster Park) so severely damaged from the earthquakes that its future is still yet to be decided, the site for a temporary home was located at an existing sporting ground to the south-west of Christchurch’s CBD.

Having initially been contacted by Canterbury Rugby in around July 2011, Populous started drawing up designs in September. By December, the demolition ball started to swing, with construction lasting from 4 January to opening day on 24 March 2012. Costing a mere NZ$30 million, the Addington stadium was built from start to finish in fewer than 100 days – just in time for the Crusaders’ second home game of the 2012 Super 15 Rugby season.

“It was fast and furious, there’s no doubt about that,” Maguire accepts. “We cut out loads of red tape in terms of building consent applications – we of course still had to go through the process and everything had to be safe, but it was all massively accelerated by the council and government as the project was deemed an extra-special case. We got consents for some components granted in less than 24 hours; we even had permission to work 24/7 without any noise restrictions, which is pretty much unheard of. The camaraderie, energy and will to make it happen was just amazing. Nobody wanted to be the one to drop the ball. It’d be great to see that kind of attitude more often – just not in the same circumstances.”

The new AMI Stadium is designed to have a life of between three and five years – although Maguire says with maintenance it could theoretically last 20-25 – and while the timelines and budget presented hurdles, a further challenge involved creating a temporary stadium that didn’t come across as such. “Christchurch is tired of temporary so it was important that it didn’t feel that way,” the Populous architect adds.

Material world
There were two aspects to achieving this goal successfully. “First there’s the structural safety point of view, which was paramount in everybody’s minds after the quakes – and this being the first public building completed since the devastation, capable of holding 18,000 people,” Maguire says. “Everything had to feel solid so we made sure that in terms of dynamic frequencies you didn’t physically feel as if you were in a temporary structure. But it was vital that it wasn’t a ‘botch-up job’ in terms of sightlines, the most important part of any sporting venue. We were inspired in part by Forsyth Barr Stadium, which is about as close as you can get to the pitch without actually playing. When you’re in the AMI Stadium, in the seating bowl, you wouldn’t know you’re sitting on a scaffold-type seating system. So a major ambition was to try and replicate the spectator experience you’d have in a permanent venue. We really over-specced on the F&B outlets, for example, so there are no long queues, over which there’s large canopies so you’re not out in the rain. The quality of the VIP facilities is far higher than you would expect for a temporary stadium, too.”

Smart thinking was also needed when it came to materials sourcing. “Because of the time and cost factors, we used off-the-shelf, pre-fabricated components as much as possible,” Maguire recalls. “We knew that the steel sections, etc, incorporated in the stands and the gantry roof were in stock at the design stage. Early on, we knew what we had to work with, so architecturally it was more about putting it all together in a functional sense. We couldn’t really apply much in terms of artistry, so we’ve done what we could to maximise aesthetics.”

In this regard, Populous drew on its Dunedin and London Olympic Stadium experience to create what Maguire calls the “wrap and ribbons,” the red fabric weaving its way through the steel latticework. “Red, the colour of the Crusaders, draws people in and creates a sense of occasion and excitement,”
he feels. “It also serves as a wayfinding purpose: as it weaves down the concourse as a decorative element, it takes off into each vomitory and into the bowl.”

The legacy approach
Although the fabric is brand-new, AMI Stadium’s recycling of components from other New Zealand stadia has been critical to the project’s success. The pitch is a fully drained, professional-quality field comprising 12,600m2 of turf harvested in rolls from the old site and then relaid at the new stadium. “The AV screens and the PA system also came from the old AMI Stadium,” reveals Maguire, who joined Populous in February 2008 and worked on the Eden Park redevelopment in Auckland. “We got the temporary seating scaffolds from Eden Park, which weren’t needed after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, while F&B outlets and merchandising were also relocated from both Eden Park and Carisbrook Stadium in Dunedin, which also provided the lighting towers. We leased all of the F&B outlets and toilets for NZ$1, so we saved around NZ$5 million on those items alone. The seats are part of a lease-to-buy deal with Acrow Seating and GL Events. Were it not for the earthquakes, they may have ended up in one of the London 2012 venues.”

Quick thinking
“There was no time to take a traditional approach and write letters or send emails – if there was an issue, decisions had to be made on the spot to make things work or fit,” explains Quin Henderson, South Island regional manager for main contractor, Hawkins Construction. “People worked long hours and weekends – contributing not only time but also resources to get the project completed. It wasn’t unusual for our guys to be there putting up steel at 1am and being back on site at 5am to pour concrete. It was a massive team effort.”

The sleepless nights certainly paid off, confirmed not least by the 18,000-capacity stadium being full to the rafters for the homecoming against South Africa’s Bloemfontein Cheetahs. But AMI Stadium is also flexible enough to be used for rugby league, football and concerts, and can increase its capacity to 25,000 for a major event such as a rugby test match. The first of these on 23 June 2012 was sold out almost immediately after tickets for the All Blacks versus Ireland test went on sale, a match won by New Zealand by 60-0. Christchurch’s sporting heroes appear to be settling in quite comfortably.

Road to recovery
“I’ve talked with the CEO, a few of the players and some fans and they’re loving the stadium – they’re loving the intimate atmosphere. It really feels like home, albeit for the short term,” reports Maguire. So what happens next? “The New Zealand government’s Recovery Plan for the central city calls for a rectangular stadium. Whether or not we will follow Dunedin’s precedent for a covered stadium is still under discussion, so we’ll just have to wait and see what emerges.”

With the recent release of the CCDU’s Recovery Plan for Christchurch Central and the 100-day blueprint, the focus of the CCDU team now shifts to the ‘1,000 days’, and commencing design and construction of the first of the major anchor projects identified in the plan. Although a long, slow process to rebuild the whole city, Crusaders CEO Riach believes Christchurch needs moments such as the AMI Stadium opening to help get people back on their feet. “The terror and emotional turmoil of the earthquakes have subsided and been replaced with the daily grind of people rebuilding their lives,” he concludes. “The opening night was a stake in the ground, a great sign that we will rebuild: emotionally physically and financially.”


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