In India they call it a ghat. A terraced set of steps that leads right down into the water. In Venice, it's the Molo, the quay that runs all the way along past the Doge's palace, right by St Mark's Square. Made famous in the paintings of Canaletto, where ferries and all other boats of the city come and go.

Great public spaces at the water's edge. We already have one in Auckland, at Karanga Plaza, between the bridge and the old Team NZ America's Cup base. Check it out: it's a free public facility in downtown Auckland and when the weather permits, which is often, it's so busy with parents and toddlers taking the water, kids queuing who spend all day jumping in, locals and tourists getting a kick out of being there.

More of that, please. Civic assets for all, making the most of the great natural beauty of the city. In planner-speak, the built environment in service to the people.


That's the bedrock of the new stadium proposal for what is currently Bledisloe Wharf. Great free public space, all the way round the stadium, and more in the mixed development proposed for the rest of Bledisloe Wharf. That will have residential units, offices and retail and a headland park to match the one planned for Wynyard Point, currently Silo Park, away to the west.

The two parks will set the boundaries of the city's downtown waterfront, which makes the stadium proposal part of something much bigger. And yet it fits pretty well within the council's existing City Centre and Waterfront Masterplan, which calls for the transformation of Quay St and the activation of more of the water's edge.

An artist's impression of the proposed sunken waterfront stadium at Bledsiloe Wharf. Photo / supplied.
An artist's impression of the proposed sunken waterfront stadium at Bledsiloe Wharf. Photo / supplied.

Those terraced steps around the stadium are not just for daily public use. They're the breakwater on the project. Instead of a seawall, taking a pounding and blocking sightlines, the steps will have the job of breaking up the water.

Will that work? The steps are planned to rise 5 metres above the high tide mark. Richard Goldie of Peddle Thorp, the project's lead architects, says they've been told by GNS Science the building should be able to withstand a 3.5 metre tsunami.

It's not very high, although the inner Waitemata is not like the exposed east coast at, say, Hawke's Bay's Haumoana. Storm surges and tsunami tend to subside on their way around Coromandel and down past the islands of the gulf.

But still, will those steps be high enough? There's about 18 months of testing to come, if they get an in-principle green light, and that's one of the many questions they'll need to find a good answer for. If the steps should go higher, it's not a problem.

At the top of those steps, glass walls will rise up all the way round the stadium bowl, or "crater", separating the public space from the interior of the bowl. If you're inside, sitting in the back row of seats, you'll have that glass wall behind you.

Inside, you'll stay warm and dry; from the outside, you'll be able to look right through the building. You won't hear much, either: a permanent roof and those glass walls will prevent concert noise from becoming an issue for nearby residents. The roof will be made from the same plastic that covers the south stadium at Eden Park.

A view looking northwest from the stadium. Photo / supplied.
A view looking northwest from the stadium. Photo / supplied.

The crater will be 25 metres deep, of which 10 metres is sunk into the seawater, and a further 18m into the seabed, and Goldie says it won't be especially difficult to build, because none of the technology is new. That makes it very different from the Sydney Opera House, where they had to invent how to make the roof shapes.

Goldie says they'll use the same techniques that were used on the harbour bridge 60 years ago: putting down a waterproof steel sheath and pouring concrete into it.

The angle of the seating will be steep enough so everyone can see easily over the heads of the people in front. The roof will extend out over the steps and held down by pillars, probably stainless steel, sunk in the water. The standard capacity will be 50,000, extendible to 65,000 for the big tests and also reducible: smaller games will be played in a more intimate atmosphere.

So why bother? Because the city needs a venue for all sorts of events. We miss out now on the big stars who go to the covered stadium in Dunedin. Adele, or the next Adele, won't play many concerts in the rain. Pink, or the next Pink, won't be prepared to do six shows in a row to accommodate all the fans.

Eden Park is crippled by consent restrictions; if Mt Smart or Western Springs were the answer we'd be using them a lot more now.

And we need a new stadium because live sport is in trouble. Watching the game at home is pretty attractive for a lot of people these days. Big HD screen, mic'd referees, good replay action and you don't have to queue for a beer. Smart TV will keep giving you more choices of replays, player focus and so much more.

So stadiums have to upgrade their own experience. One of the companies in the consortium proposing this new stadium is an American outfit called HOK. Improving stadium experiences is what they do.

Faster queues or no queues. Better sightlines, better seating, more screen-based options, easy access to great commentaries. No chance of sitting miserably in the cold and wet. Easy ways to get there and get home after – and lots of after-game options for those who don't want to go right home.

An aerial view of Bledisloe Wharf. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
An aerial view of Bledisloe Wharf. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

All of that is why Auckland needs a new stadium and why it has to be close to the central city. This proposal doesn't have a car park the size of a small sea next door. It relies on its proximity to the central public transport hub, with trains, light rail, buses and ferries all right there.

The consortium thinks that when you add up all the rugby and league, men's and women's, add in tournaments and visiting exhibition sports, and all the concerts we don't get now, there'll be something on there at least once a week.

That seems right. And there are probably an awful lot of people working and/or living in the central city now who will happily wander down to the waterfront in the evening for a game or a show.

Another bonus: at the north end the stadium will align with Bledisloe, creating a wharf long enough to accommodate the mega-cruise ships. We won't need those ridiculous mooring dolphins the council wants to build off the end of Queens Wharf. Other cruise ships would berth at Queens Wharf, as now.

Should we do this? Critics have said we should focus on housing and transport instead. The engineering is too hard and they can't see how it would work. There would be big hidden costs to ratepayers and taxpayers. The imported cars currently using Bledisloe Wharf have to stay. We just don't want a waterfront stadium.

All of those issues are contestable. So let's have them contested properly – by a planning process designed to seek an exciting, robust outcome.

Great buildings come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them define everything around them: the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower. Some offer wonderful experiences without wanting to make look-at-me statements at all. Isn't that a pretty good thing for Auckland's waterfront?