It may have been freezing elsewhere in the country, but when Honduras and Chile met each other head-on at Mbombela stadium’s World Cup opener on Wednesday, it was in glorious sunshine.
Mpumalanga province, of which host city Nelspruit is the administrative capital, is home to a spectacular array of scenic attractions. Of these, the Kruger National Park, with its two million hectares of unspoilt African bushveld, is undoubtedly the best-known.
It was with this in mind that Cape Town-based chief architect Mike Bell tackled the brief to design a stadium for the province. He wanted to reflect the area’s important connection to the Kruger Park, and came up with 18 giraffe supports as a signature feature. Facing outward, they patiently guard the surrounding rocky outcrops.
Inside, the liberal use of bright colours was inspired by the province’s native Ndebele tribe’s way of decorating their homes, and zebra-striped seats complete the wildlife theme.
It has been met with rave reviews. As the predominantly Chilean-favouring crowd started streaming in, visitors were enthusiastically photographing each other against the backdrop of the giraffes.
Matias Vergara, a Chilean student, commented on the stadium’s setting. “I like the nature and hills around it,” he said. “You don’t feel like you’re anywhere near a city.”
Others liked the ease of access and the abundance of ablution facilities, but mostly appreciated the stadium’s quirkiness. “It’s just such a bright and breezy space,” remarked a visitor from Gauteng. “You can’t help but feel happy.”
“We’re very proud of our stadium,” commented Mike Bruwer, a Nelspruit resident. “It’s a bit like us - not too serious.”