The trust board that runs Eden Park has proposed a bold renovation with a covered roof and, they say, massive environmental benefits.
They don’t know the half of it.
In 2019, Swiss artist Klaus Littmann transformed the Worthersee football stadium in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt, near the southern border with Slovenia, into a “native Central European forest”. He planted 299 trees, mainly larch, birch, silver fir, maple and other European standards, filling the playing field, attracting the attention of tourists and art critics from all over the world and, presumably, annoying more than a few football fans. All in a good cause!
Littmann’s installation was entitled “For Forest - The Unending Attraction of Nature” and was designed to suggest that “nature, which we so often take for granted, may someday only be found in specially designated spaces, as is already the case with animals in zoos”.
It wasn’t his idea. He was inspired by the Austrian engineer and architect Max Peintner, who made a pencil drawing in 1971 of spectators in a sports stadium look down on a forest, with the city in the background. Uncannily, a sky tower not unlike Auckland’s pokes above the buildings.
Littmann saw the drawing and asked Peintner if he could buy it. He couldn’t, but with Peintner’s blessing he decided to make the concept real.
The stadium was built for the Euro 2008 competition but since then had hosted very few big crowds. The project was privately funded, with some of the money coming from the sale of prints of the original drawing, hand-coloured by Littmann. For Forest was always intended to be temporary: the trees, even the biggest ones which weighed up to six tonnes, have now been replanted nearby.
None of that stopped the far-right Freedom Party of Austria from claiming it was a waste of taxpayers’ money. Art! Climate change! How dare they! Littman was attacked on social media and assaulted in the street.
But, he says, after “many years working within gallery and museum spaces”, he’d decided it was better to make art in – and take the climate message to – the places where people already are. “Environmental collapse is an existential danger for mankind and so it’s important to tackle it in everyday life.”
As for Eden Park, they’re not proposing to plant a forest. But they have calculated that adapting the stadium instead of building a new one could save at least 40 per cent of emissions over a 70-year life. Also, the park is already well set up to use mass transit to get people to and from events.
There’s been some commentary that a covered roof will mean the stadium would be safe from the kind of flooding it experienced in the Anniversary Weekend storm this year. That’s misinformed. Eden Park is a floodwater “detention basin”, designed to store water that might otherwise flood the nearby homes. It’s meant to flood. If the new plans go ahead, they will have to work out how to preserve that function.
Design for Living appears weekly in Canvas magazine.