top of page

Invitations to play, or maybe just to sit and watch.

Do we value public outdoor space around our sports, leisure or community facilities?

Are they accesible, inviting places to spend time?

Do they present an invitation to play?

Invitiation to Play is a phrase I used to describe pro-active approaches to disrupt the 'No Ball Games' culture in the UK, but on my Churchill Fellowship I'm starting to see other applications of such concept.

Walking back from a meeting at the Island Brygge Harbour Baths, I spotted this small panna-style mini-football cage. In turn, that made me look at the building behind it, from this roadside view it was pretty unassuming, but the cage made me look closer, I realised that this was Korsgadehallen, an impressive piece of architecture, on this roadside was quite unassuming. The pitch was an invitation to play.

I've noticed this elsewhere across the Danish capital. Norrebro Sports Hall opens on to the impressive and active public space -- with skateparks, thai boxing rings and Iraqi group swings -- that is the red zone at Superkilen.

GAME Streetmekka, Copenhagen

While in Copenhagen, I met with GAME CEO Simon Prahm, who spoke of the importance of their facility's big doors and how they open up to allow people to comfortably walk or skate in. We also spoke of the importance of creating public space outside the facility that people can use free of charge, or just hang out.

Thier stunning facilities in Ejsberg and Viborg build on this approach to create covered outdoor activity spaces to provide this soft entrance all year round.

One thing these outdoor spaces in have in common is their inclusion of places to sit, and exclusion of motor vehicles. The public space around these community facilities are designed to encourage people to spend time and interact, not to drive up and park as close to the door as possible as in the car park islands that our leisure centres so often resemble.

Flexibility, sociability, and acessibility are the key concepts handed over to the architects designing a new GAME facility, are these reflected in our sport & leisure stock?

These concepts are taken indoors too. When GAME first asked its young users what they wanted in a facility, they were expecting a focus on the sporting. "What's going to be happening in the corners", was the reply,"could there be place to grafitti in one corner, could we have a couch, and a place to buy a soda?"

This was translated into social spaces in view of the court, "where you don't have to perform, you can just be... where you can look at your smartphone if you're addicted to that, but if you do it here maybe you'll bump into others, maybe a team will be a player short and invite you in," says Simon.

You'll this approach integrated into many designs supported by LOA -- a Danish foundation supporting innovation in activities for sport and recreation -- an adaptation of the theory of legitimate peripheral participation which discusses how newcomers to an activity or community become members of that community initially by participating in simple and low-risk tasks. In sports facilities this translates to creating space for socialising on the sidelines, meeting and waiting for friends, watching practice or a game rather than opening the sports hall doors and being thrown straight on to the court.

A bench sits on the opposite side of a field with its back turned to an isolated  to an isolated basketball hoop
Cowley Road, Oxford

Translating this back outdoors again, it brings to mind a pet peeve of mine, the isolated table tennis table, basketball hoop or even multi-use games area. Because in parks in the U.K. design areas for people to be active and play, or for people to sit and be quiet. The idea that someone might want to watch, rest, wait for their turn while shooting some hoops seems an alien concept.

One man sits on informal concrete seating, waiting for his turn as friends play a 'round the table' game of table tennis
Sonder Boulevard, a linear park in Copenhagen

169 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page